Local species 'face extinction'

The Arabian leopard, tahr and houbara bustard are under threat, according to a list of endangered plants and animals.

Caption:	arabian leopard
Photographer:	David Cayless
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Abu Dhabi // Native species including the Arabian leopard, tahr and houbara bustard are under threat of extinction, according to an updated list of the world's most endangered plants and animals. The Arabian leopard is among 188 mammals deemed critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The group's "Red List", which is considered the most respected inventory of biodiversity, also says the tahr, a mountain goat found only in northern Oman and the UAE, is endangered, while the houbara bustard is vulnerable to extinction. The report, which covers more than 44,000 animal and plant species, warns that a quarter of all the world's known mammals face extinction and many animals will vanish before they are ever known to science. According to the IUCN, there are now fewer than 200 Arabian leopards in the wild. Once a common sight in the mountains of Oman, Yemen and Saudia Arabia, there have been no officials sightings of the big cats in the UAE for more than a decade. Habitat depletion, hunting and the loss of natural prey, such as the tahr, have all contributed to its decline. There are thought to be fewer than 5,000 tahr left and sightings of the goat, which has a long, reddish-brown coat and a dark stripe running down its back, are rare. While some populations have increased through protection, the group says the species likely continues to decline overall. The numbers of houbara bustard, a sandy, speckled bird, have slipped dramatically due to falconry. "The principal threat is from over-hunting by Middle East falconers, largely but not exclusively on the species' wintering grounds. Habitat loss and degradation compound this problem," the report says. The UAE has launched a number of conservation programmes focusing on the three species. The Sharjah Breeding Center for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, located 30km south of Sharjah city, is one of the few places in the world that breeds Arabian leopards. The Wadi Wurayah area of Fujairah, where the leopards are believed to survive, is also being turned into the country's first mountainous national park under an expansion of the protected areas programme. The Hajar Mountains, the location of the country's only year-round waterfall and one of the three remaining areas in the UAE where the tahr survives, is expected to be designated a protected zone by the end of the year. The National Avian Research Center has bred and released some 200 houbara bustard since 2004, and hopes to raise that number to 5,000 by 2013. The authors of the report, which was published in the journal Science this week, say they have insufficient evidence to classify more than 800 other species of mammals around the globe, meaning the number of those under threat could be much higher. But there is a glimmer of hope among the bleak assessments. The populations of at least five per cent of species on the list are on the rise. The Arabian oryx, one of the largest of the antelope family and an ancient inhabitant of the peninsula's desert, was rated as endangered but is on the verge of being reclassified as vulnerable from 2011 as long as populations remain stable or improve. There are fewer than 1,000 of the black and white animals in the wild, the report says. In March 2007, the first phase of the UAE's oryx reintroduction plan got under way, and 100 of the animals were released into a desert reserve in Abu Dhabi. The programme aims to re-establish a self-sustaining wild population. The IUCN did not classify the UAE's oryx population as wild because, although they have been released into the desert, supplementary forage and other management measures are taken. Jan Schipper, the lead author of the mammal survey, called for an international coalition to save species, saying countries should be held responsible for the survival of animals within their borders. "For mammals there is no bailout plan. There is no long-term conservation strategy that is going to prevent species extinction in the future. As human beings, we should be ensuring that we don't cause other species to go extinct." * Additional reporting by AFP