Etihad Rail rehomes 300 rare animals from Sharjah desert to make way for national railway

Snakes and geckos among those trapped and relocated in nature reserve

Rare wildlife - including snakes and geckos - were carefully cleared from Sharjah desert hideaways to make way for the new Etihad Rail development that will span the country once complete.

More than 300 animals were moved from the Misanad Protected Area to ensure their survival as construction of the national railway line continues.

Environmental experts trapped 10 Cheeseman’s gerbils, 17 rough-tailed geckos and 263 short-fingered geckos and five saw-scaled vipers – one of the few venomous snakes of the UAE.

The rescue act took place as construction of the line accelerates. In January, it was announced that tracks were being laid for the 139-kilometre stretch connecting Ruwais with Ghuweifat on the UAE border with Saudi Arabia. When finished, Etihad Rail will stretch for about 1,000km from Ghuweifat to Fujairah on the UAE's east coast, connecting ports.

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The company is committed to protecting wildlife during the line's construction and operation. The relocation – done at night to maximise the prime hunting time of the mainly nocturnal animals – also captured an Arabian jird, 24 Baluch rock geckos and 10 more Heyden's geckos.

Five Persian wonder geckos were rescued and are some of the most colourful in the UAE, distinguishable by their bright yellow backs.

All of the animals were caught humanely by hand, or using special traps to minimise stress on the creatures before they were released in new habitats, some distance from where the railway will run.

“Etihad Rail is committed to being a ‘good neighbour’ to the local community surrounding the national railway network by implementing the highest environmental standards and preserving the diverse natural heritage of the UAE,” a spokesman said.

“In line with this commitment, Etihad Rail carefully organised the transport of animals from the Misanad Protected Area, through which the planned route of the national railway runs, to other suitable and protected habitats.”

The Misanad area of natural habitat for wildlife is also home to scorpions, spiders and pigeons.

The relocation, completed in line with leading international best practice, was conducted in co-operation with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority, environmental experts, specialists and other relevant national authorities.

Etihad Rail recently announced its partnership with Emirates Nature-WWF, Fujairah Environment Authority and Fujairah Adventures, to implement an environmental conservation and habitat rehabilitation project in Al Bithnah, Fujairah.

Once complete, the rail network will connect regions of the UAE with the rest of the GCC.

Stage one is complete and operating along a 264km route from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, transporting sulphur.

Etihad Rail was created in 2009. Freight is the focus but its mandate included a potential passenger element.

Construction starts on UAE railway to Saudi border