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Expedition report: Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United Arab Emirates (January-February 2019)

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Abstract The successful collaboration between Biosphere Expeditions and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), initiated in 2012, continues with citizen scientists collecting data for two weeks from 19 January to 2 February 2019. Data gathered alerted the DDCR management to several conservation issues and also allowed for informed, fact-based management decisions to be made in a showcase of how the work of citizen scientists can aid the efforts of conservation professionals. The 2019 expedition observed healthy numbers of the following species using a variety non-independent count methods: 1,890 Arabian oryx, 1,270 Arabian gazelle, 317 sand gazelle, 1 red fox, 13 MacQueen’s bustards, 15 lappet-faced vultures and 4 pharaoh eagle owls. Arabian oryx were distributed all over the DDCR, a change from the 2018 distribution. This is mainly due to their increasing numbers and therefore competition and a subsequent need for dispersal. The predicted distribution of Arabian oryx across the DDCR is highly concentrated, mainly around the feeding points and irrigated areas, where food is easily found. Arabian gazelles were more widely distributed in 2019 than in 2018. They were mainly concentrated in the central and central-south parts of the DDCR in what appears to be a result of modified habitats such as the irrigated areas at old farms and plantations, which provide more food for the species. The quadrat count of 105 sand gazelles was similar to the 2018 result (132), albeit slightly lower. Distribution has expanded from that of 2018 and sand gazelle were recorded in most parts of the reserve. The highest concentrations are consistently in the south of the DDCR in the dunes, the preferred habitat for the species, and around the irrigated areas, which provide access to food. 19,642 plants were counted during circular observations: 17,422 bushes, 1,448 Ghaf trees, 514 Acacia trees, 175 date palms, mainly in farms, 66 Sodom’s apple, and 14 Arta. Only three desert thorn were counted. Comparative predicted distribution of fire bush and Sodom’s apple, which are both important indicator species for the reserve’s habitats, showed a contraction of Sodom’s apple. This is most likely due to the increasing numbers of Arabian gazelle, which browse the species. Live traps were set for 27 trap nights by two consecutive groups, but did not capture any meso-predators. Small mammals trapping consisted of 268 trapping nights over six grids and resulted in a total of 28 captures, which included two species: 25 Cheeseman’s gerbils (16 males, 7 females, 2 unknown) and three Egyptian spiny mouse (1 male, 2 unknown). The total trapping success rate was 10%. The Arabian red fox survey found 92 dens, of which 62 had been previously classified as active or inactive, and 30 newly discovered. 15 dens were classed as active, 29 as inactive and 49 as abandoned. The 2019 survey showed a 37% increase in the number of active dens compared to 2018. However, compared to 2017, 2016 and 2011 the density of red fox dens in the DDCR was lower in 2018 and 2019, which could be due to a decrease in prey abundance due to the current poor vegetation conditions. 17 camera traps set over 203 trapping days captured 28 wildlife species and one feral cat. Arabian oryx was the most abundant and widespread species (20,259 capture events), followed by 4,696 Arabian gazelle, 570 feral cats, 331 Arabian red fox and 3 Arabian wildcat. No sand foxes were recorded. A high number of bird species (23) was also recorded by the camera traps, including 138 capture events of lappet-faced vultures, as well as records of Pallid harrier, Bonelli's eagle, long-legged buzzard, Pharaoh eagle-owl, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and MacQueen’s bustard. The high ungulate population within the DDCR continues to be the major challenge in its management. This is naturally a concern during dry years as there is less food available for all herbivorous species. Even more of a concern is that these high ungulate numbers will hinder recovery of the habitat even in wet years. The results in this report show that this is likely to affect adversely the small mammal and red fox populations. It is therefore a priority of the DDCR to reduce drastically the numbers of ungulates within the reserve through relocation to enclosures adjacent to the reserve. In line with this, the DDCR will, over the next five years, move to lower numbers of ungulates, but increase to increase the diversity of species through both natural processes, as the habitat quality improves, but also through some potential species re-introductions once the habitat has recovered. It is hoped that Biosphere Expeditions citizen scientists will continue to play an important role in studying the effects of these management actions. الملخص يستمر التعاون الناجح بين محمية دبي الصحراوية وبرنامج رحلات المحيط الحيوي منذ بدء البرنامج في العام 2012م بمساعدة المتطوعين والذين يقومون بتجميع البيانات الحقلية لمدة أسبوعين من 19 يناير 2019م وحتى 2 فبراير 2019م حيث أيدت البيانات التي تم تجميعها للعديد من الملاحظات والأنشطة من قبل إدارة محمية دبي الصحراوية وكذلك ساعدت المحمية في الحصول على العديد من المعلومات المفيدة واتخاذ قرارات صحيحة والتي تصب في صالح المحمية والتي بدورها ساهمت في تعزيز التعاون المثمر بين المتطوعين المهتمين بالحياة البرية والباحثين العاملين بالمحمية. سجلت بعثة المحيط الحيوي لعام 2019م أعدادا صحية من الأنواع التالية وذلك باستخدام مجموعة متنوعة من طرق الإحصاء الحقلية، تم تسجيل 1890 من المها العربي، 1270 من الغزال الأدمي، بالإضافة إلى 317 من غزال الريم. بالإضافة إلى عدد واحد من الثعالب الحمراء، وعدد 13 طائر من طيور الحباري، وكذلك 15 نسر الأذون وأربعة من طيور البوم الفرعوني. تم تسجيل المها العربي موزعا بصورة متجانسة في جميع أنحاء محمية دبي الصحراوية، مغايرا لما تم تسجيله في السنة السابقة (2018م) مما يفسر نظرية زيادة أعداد المها وبالتالي المنافسة الشديدة بين أفراد المها في تحديد نطاقاتهم مما ينتج إعادة التوزيع المسجلة. تحليل توزيع المها العربي أظهر تركيزا شديدا في مناطق محددة داخل المحمية وخاصة حول نقاط التغذية والمزارع حيث يسهل الحصول على الغذاء. وبدراسة توزيعات الغزال العربي أظهرت انتشارا أوسع للغزال مقارنة بالعام السابق وتركزت بشكل أساسي في وسط وجنوب المحمية، فيما يبدو أنه نتيجة لتحسين البيئات في تلك المناطق وكذلك لتوفر الغذاء والماء في المناطق المروية والمزارع القديمة. وبالنسبة لغزال الريم فكان العدد الإجمالي (105) قريب من تسجيل الاعداد بالسنة السابقة (132) وإن كان أقل ولكن توزيع الأعداد كان متجانسا في جميع أرجاء المحمية مع كثافة أعلي بجنوب المحمية في منطقة الكثبان الرملية والتي يفضلها غزال الريم وكذلك المناطق المنزرعة لوفرة الغذاء. تم إحصاء 19642 فرد نباتي يتكون من 17422 شجيرة المرخ، 1448 شجرة غاف، 514 شجرة سمار، 175 شجرة نخيل (مسجلة كلها في المزارع القديمة)، 66 شجيرة العشار، 14 شجيرة الأرطة، 3 شجيرات العوسج. أظهر التوزيع المتوقع لشجيرات المرخ والعشار وكلاهما من الأنواع الهامة لبيئات المحمية. تم ملاحظة نقصان أعداد شجيرات العشار وهذا على الأرجح بسبب الزيادة المضطردة لأعداد الغزال والذي يتغذى على أوراق تلك الشجيرة. تم تعيين المصائد الحية لمدة 27 ليلة من خلال مجموعتين متتاليتين ولكن لم يتم تسجيل أي مفترسات متوسطة الحجم. تم وضع مصائد الثدييات الصغيرة لحوالي 268 ليلة موزعة لعدد ست قطاعات بالمحمية وأسفرت عن تسجيل ما مجموعه 28 من الثدييات الصغيرة، تضمنت نوعين وهما: 25 جربوع (16 ذكور، 7 إناث، 2 غير معروفين) ثلاثة فأر شوكي عربي (ذكر واحد، 2 غير معروفين). كان إجمالي معدل نجاح الاصطياد حوالي 10%. كان من نتيجة حصر أوكار الثعالب تسجيل 92 وكر، تم تصنيف 62 منها مسبقا في السنوات السابقة على أنها إما نشطة أو غير نشطة بالإضافة إلى 30 وكرا تم تسجيلهم حديثا. تم تصنيف 15 وكرا على أنها أوكار نشطة و29 على أنها غير نشطة و49 أوكار مهجورة. أظهر المسح الحقلي للعام 2019م زيادة بنسبة 37% في عدد الأوكار النشطة مقارنة بعام 2018م ومع ذلك إذا تم مقارنة النتائج مع 2017م و2016م تظهر المقارنة تسجيل أقل في عامي 2018م و2019م وهو ما يمكن أن يكون بسبب قلة أعداد الفرائس بسبب ظروف الغطاء النباتي الشحيح. تم ضبط 17 فخ كاميرا على مدي 203 يوم حيث تم تسجيل 28 نوعاً من أنواع الحياة البرية وقط بري واحد. كان المها العربي هو أكثر الأنواع وفرة وانتشارا حيث تم التقاط عدد 20259 صورة يليه الغزال العربي بعدد 4696 تسجيل ثم 570 صورة للقط الضالة و331 صورة للثعلب الأحمر و3 قطط برية و لم يتم تسجيل أي ثعالب رمال. تم تسجيل عدد كبير من أنواع الطيور (23) بواسطة مصائد الكاميرات بما في ذلك 138 صورة لنسر الأذون والباليد هاريير ونسر البونيللي والصقر طويل الارجل والبوم الفرعوني والحباري. لا يزال زيادة أعداد ذوات الحوافر تمثل تحديا لإدارة المحمية وهذا بطبيعة الحال مصدر قلق خلال سنوات الجفاف حيث يوجد طعام أقل متاح لجميع الحيوانات العشبية. الأمر الأكثر إثارة للقلق أنه نتيجة لزيادة أعداد ذوات الحوافر تؤثر علي الموائل الطبيعية وقدرتها على الاستعادة الطبيعية حتي في السنوات المطيرة. تظهر النتائج في هذا التقرير أنه من المحتمل أن يؤثر ذلك سلبا على الثدييات الصغيرة من القوارض وكذلك بالتبعية الثعالب الحمراء لذلك فإن من أولويات المحمية التقليل بشكل كبير من أعداد ذوات الحوافر داخل المحمية من خلال نقل عدد من القطعان إلي كامب خارج المحمية لحين نقلها لمحميات أخري، وتماشيا مع هذا فإن سياسة المحمية هي تواجد أعداد أقل من ذوات الحوافر للخمس سنوات القادمة. تتوقع المحمية زيادة التنوع الحيوي مع تحسن جودة الموائل الطبيعية، وهناك أيضا توجه بإدخال أنواع أخري بمجرد استعادة الموائل لطبيعتها. من المأمول أن تستمر رحلات المحيط الحيوي في لعب دور مهم في دراسة أثار إجراءات الحماية بمحمية دبي الصحراوية.
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EXPEDITION REPORT
Expedition dates: 19 January 2 February 2019
Report published: November 2020
Ways of the desert:
conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s
wildcat and other species of the
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve,
United Arab Emirates.
1
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
EXPEDITION REPORT
Ways of the desert:
Conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and other
species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve,
United Arab Emirates.
Expedition dates:
19 January 2 February 2019
Report published:
November 2020
Authors:
Gregory Simkins
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Moayyed Sher Shah
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Matthias Hammer (editor)
Biosphere Expeditions
2
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Abstract
The successful collaboration between Biosphere Expeditions and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
(DDCR), initiated in 2012, continues with citizen scientists collecting data for two weeks from 19 January to 2
February 2019. Data gathered alerted the DDCR management to several conservation issues and also
allowed for informed, fact-based management decisions to be made in a showcase of how the work of
citizen scientists can aid the efforts of conservation professionals.
The 2019 expedition observed healthy numbers of the following species using a variety non-independent
count methods: 1,890 Arabian oryx, 1,270 Arabian gazelle, 317 sand gazelle, 1 red fox, 13 MacQueen’s
bustards, 15 lappet-faced vultures and 4 pharaoh eagle owls.
Arabian oryx were distributed all over the DDCR, a change from the 2018 distribution. This is mainly due to
their increasing numbers and therefore competition and a subsequent need for dispersal. The predicted
distribution of Arabian oryx across the DDCR is highly concentrated, mainly around the feeding points and
irrigated areas, where food is easily found. Arabian gazelles were more widely distributed in 2019 than in
2018. They were mainly concentrated in the central and central-south parts of the DDCR in what appears to
be a result of modified habitats such as the irrigated areas at old farms and plantations, which provide more
food for the species. The quadrat count of 105 sand gazelles was similar to the 2018 result (132), albeit
slightly lower. Distribution has expanded from that of 2018 and sand gazelle were recorded in most parts of
the reserve. The highest concentrations are consistently in the south of the DDCR in the dunes, the
preferred habitat for the species, and around the irrigated areas, which provide access to food.
19,642 plants were counted during circular observations: 17,422 bushes, 1,448 Ghaf trees, 514 Acacia
trees, 175 date palms, mainly in farms, 66 Sodom’s apple, and 14 Arta. Only three desert thorn were
counted. Comparative predicted distribution of fire bush and Sodom’s apple, which are both important
indicator species for the reserve’s habitats, showed a contraction of Sodom’s apple. This is most likely due to
the increasing numbers of Arabian gazelle, which browse the species.
Live traps were set for 27 trap nights by two consecutive groups, but did not capture any meso-predators.
Small mammals trapping consisted of 268 trapping nights over six grids and resulted in a total of 28
captures, which included two species: 25 Cheeseman’s gerbils (16 males, 7 females, 2 unknown) and three
Egyptian spiny mouse (1 male, 2 unknown). The total trapping success rate was 10%.
The Arabian red fox survey found 92 dens, of which 62 had been previously classified as active or inactive,
and 30 newly discovered. 15 dens were classed as active, 29 as inactive and 49 as abandoned. The 2019
survey showed a 37% increase in the number of active dens compared to 2018. However, compared to
2017, 2016 and 2011 the density of red fox dens in the DDCR was lower in 2018 and 2019, which could be
due to a decrease in prey abundance due to the current poor vegetation conditions.
17 camera traps set over 203 trapping days captured 28 wildlife species and one feral cat. Arabian oryx was
the most abundant and widespread species (20,259 capture events), followed by 4,696 Arabian gazelle, 570
feral cats, 331 Arabian red fox and 3 Arabian wildcat. No sand foxes were recorded. A high number of bird
species (23) was also recorded by the camera traps, including 138 capture events of lappet-faced vultures,
as well as records of Pallid harrier, Bonelli's eagle, long-legged buzzard, Pharaoh eagle-owl, chestnut-bellied
sandgrouse and MacQueen’s bustard.
The high ungulate population within the DDCR continues to be the major challenge in its management. This
is naturally a concern during dry years as there is less food available for all herbivorous species. Even more
of a concern is that these high ungulate numbers will hinder recovery of the habitat even in wet years. The
results in this report show that this is likely to affect adversely the small mammal and red fox populations. It is
therefore a priority of the DDCR to reduce drastically the numbers of ungulates within the reserve through
relocation to enclosures adjacent to the reserve. In line with this, the DDCR will, over the next five years,
move to lower numbers of ungulates, but increase to increase the diversity of species through both natural
processes, as the habitat quality improves, but also through some potential species re-introductions once the
habitat has recovered. It is hoped that Biosphere Expeditions citizen scientists will continue to play an
important role in studying the effects of these management actions.
3
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
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

 

     

       


             
               











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

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


4
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Contents
Abstract
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
3
Contents
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1. Expedition review
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6
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2. Desert species surveys
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Appendix I: Expedition reports, publications, diary
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
1. Expedition review
M. Hammer
Biosphere Expeditions
1.1. Background
Background information, location conditions and the research area are as per Simkins and
Hammer (2018). The aim of the expedition was to survey the distribution of Arabian oryx
Oryx leucoryx, Sand gazelle Gazella marica and Arabian gazelle Gazella gazella, as well
as to survey dens of Arabian red fox Vulpes vulpes Arabica, monitor the small mammal
population and to record the cryptic and rare species of the Dubai Desert Conservation
Reserve. Target species in addition to the ones mentioned were Arabian wildcat Felis
silvestris gordoni, Arabian red fox Vulpes vulpes arabica, Sand fox Vulpes rueppellii,
MacQueen’s bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii, lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotos,
pharaoh eagle-owl Bubo ascalaphus. Also trees and tall shrubs species number and
distribution were surveyed.
1.2. Dates & team
The annual survey ran over two weeks in January/February 2019 with two teams of
national and international citizen scientists, professional scientists and an expedition
leader. Group dates were as shown in the team list below.
The expedition team was recruited by Biosphere Expeditions and consisted of a mixture of
ages, nationalities and backgrounds. They were (in alphabetical order and with country of
residence):
19 26 January 2019: Marilyn Ashworth (UK), Jasmin Benz (Germany), Anne Dale
(France), Juliane Drews (Germany), Mary Kitchen (UK), Christore Palitzsch (Germany),
Benjamin Sharkey (UK), Mohamed Sultan Al Ulama (UAE), Deborah Walker (UK).
27 January 2 February 2019: Sharon Amos (UK)*, Ulrike Faltings (Germany), Peter
Goodman (UK), John Highet (UK), Areej Mustafa Jaradat (UAE)**, Elena Nardozzi
(Canada), Christiane Stalschus (Germany), Anne Visser (Netherlands), Toby Whaley
(Germany).
*member of the media
** local placement funded by the Friends of Biosphere Expeditions
A medical umbrella, safety and evacuation procedures were in place, but did not have to
be invoked as there were no incidences.
Greg Simkins, the expedition’s lead scientist, is South African by birth and has worked in
the field of conservation and protected areas management since 2001. Greg began his
career as a field guide in 1999. In 2001, he became a Reserve Officer in the area that later
became the DDCR, and was heavily involved in the planning and implementation of eco-
tourism activities within the protected area, which was created in 2003. In 2003, Greg took
on his current role and was appointed Conservation Manager for the DDCR. He is now
responsible for the overall management of the reserve and has been at the forefront of its
6
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
development from conception in 2003 to its current international recognition. He also plays
a major role in conducting key conservation research studies throughout the DDCR. Prior
to coming to the Middle East, Greg studied at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg in
Kwazulu-Natal, where he also did graduate work, including resource assessment and
allocation for a farm, soil surveys and research at an ostrich export farm in the Eastern
Cape.
Moayyed Sher Shah, the expedition’s field scientist, holds a zoology degree from Islamia
University Bahawalpur, Pakistan. After years of working as zoologist and conservationist in
Saudi Arabia, he joined the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, as a conservation officer
in 2018. His main role is to plan, control, develop and regularly monitor the conservation
practices and environmental work within the DDCR, ensuring the restoration and well-
being of the flora and fauna.
Paul Franklin, the expedition leader, was born in Oxford and studied zoology at Swansea
University. His Masters Degree was based on research of the migratory behaviour and
ecology of amphibians. After graduation Paul spent a year working as a naturalist guide in
the Peruvian Amazon. There, among other things, he was bitten by the travel bug. Since
then he has led many expeditions and treks to far flung corners of the globe. Travels
overseas have been interspersed with time spent in the UK working, among other things,
as a Nature Reserve Warden and Environmental Consultant. Never far from a camera,
many of his wildlife and travel images have been published in magazines and books.
When not travelling on foot through the world's wild places his preferred modes of
transport are a kayak, mountain bike or occasionally a horse.
1.3. Partners
The main partner on this expedition is the Dubai Conservation Board, a government-
appointed organisation concerned with the conservation and protection of the Dubai inland
desert. Other partners include the National Avian Research Centre.
1.4. Acknowledgements
This study was conducted by Biosphere Expeditions, which runs wildlife conservation
expeditions all over the globe. Without our expedition team members (listed above) who
provided an expedition contribution and gave up their spare time to work as research
assistants, none of this research would have been possible. The support team and staff
(also mentioned above) were central to making it all work on the ground. Special thanks go
to Arabian Adventures for providing vehicles including fuel for expedition.Biosphere
Expeditions would also like to thank the DDCR and its staff, and the Friends of Biosphere
Expeditions for their sponsorship and/or in-kind support.
1.5. Further information & enquiries
More background information on Biosphere Expeditions in general and on this expedition
in particular including pictures, diary excerpts and a copy of this report can be found on the
Biosphere Expeditions website www.biosphere-expeditions.org.
Enquires should be addressed to Biosphere Expeditions at the address given on the
website.
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
1.6. Expedition budget
Each team member paid towards expedition costs a contribution of € 1,480 per person per
12-day slot. The contribution covered accommodation and meals, supervision and
induction, special research equipment and all transport from and to the team assembly
point. It did not cover excess luggage charges, travel insurance, personal expenses such
as telephone bills, souvenirs etc., or visa and other travel expenses to and from the
assembly point (e.g. international flights). Details on how this contribution was spent are
given below.
Income
Expedition contributions
23,592
Expenditure
Expedition base
includes all food & services
1,406
Transport
includes hire cars, fuel, taxis in the UAE (sponsored by Arabian Adventures)
0
Staff
includes local and Biosphere Expeditions staff salaries and travel expenses
3,339
Administration
includes miscellaneous fees & sundries
185
Team recruitment Arabia
as estimated % of annual PR costs for Biosphere Expeditions
4,981
Shortfall from 2018 expedition
See 2018 expedition report
5,508
Income Expenditure
6,194
Total percentage spent directly on project
74%
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
2. Desert species surveys
2.1. Introduction and background
The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, is well known for its rapid development
over the past 40 years, as well as for the mega-construction projects such as the Palm
Islands and the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building). Less well known is the diversity
and beauty of the natural environment, from the dugongs and corals in the Arabian Sea,
the flamingos in the khors (inlets) of the coastline, the rugged Hajar mountain range, to the
serene splendour of the sandy dune inland desert. Also little known is that the largest
piece of land given to any single project in Dubai was for the establishment of the Dubai
Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), at 225 km² or 4.7% of Dubai’s total land area.
The main target species for this expedition were the Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx, Gordon’s
wildcat Felis silvestris gordoni, Arabian gazelle Gazella arabica, sand gazelle Gazella
marica, Arabian red fox Vulpes vulpes arabica, sand fox Vulpes rueppellii, MacQueen’s
bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii, lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotos and pharaoh
eagle owl Bubo ascalaphus.
Previous work from 2012 to 2018 and background to the species under investigation are
covered in Simkins & Hammer (2018, 2019) and in expedition reports prior to this.
2.2. Methods
Expedition participants assisted DDCR scientists in five important surveys: (1) Target
species quadrant survey, which also included parts of the ungulate survey (Arabian oryx,
Arabian gazelle, Sand gazelle) and the large shrubs survey (vegetation survey), (2) live
trapping for medium-sized animals (targeting Gordon’s wildcat and both fox species), (3)
small mammal trapping, (4) Arabian red fox den survey, and (5) camera trapping. In
addition to these surveys, participants were tasked to record any species observed while
in the field.
After a training period that lasted one and a half days, participants were split into three
groups to conduct the various surveys, in four separate zones of the DDCR, namely a
North Zone, Central Zone, South Zone and Perimeter Zone (see Figure 2.2a). Each zone
comprised fifteen 2 x 2 km quadrants, the perimeter zone comprised of 17 partial
quadrants. These 62 quadrants together represented approximately 214 km² of the 225
km² of the DDCR (or 95%). The area included all key habitats of vegetated dunes, sand
dunes and gravel plains.
Every day each group of expedition participants was tasked with surveying two to three
quadrants or approximately 10-12 km². A total of 62 quadrants (214 km²) were surveyed in
this way during the expedition. During surveys any target species encounters were
recorded in the relevant datasheets. A total of 35 quadrants were surveyed by team 1 and
the remaining 27 quadrants were surveyed by team 2.
9
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Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.2a. The DDCR and its survey zones (North = green, Central = red, South = yellow).
The perimeter zone comprises all other zones within the DDCR.
10
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Target species quadrant survey
This involved the selection of one observation point within 300 m of the centre of the
quadrant, which provided a good vantage point. From this vantage point a 360º circular
observation of the surrounding area was carried out by three to four participants with
binoculars for 30 minutes. Quadrant survey is conducted between 08:30 to 14:00 mostly.
Figure 2.2b. A quadrant survey
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© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Target species observed during these surveys were recorded in the datasheets as follows:
species name, GPS position of researcher when the species was first seen, distance and
bearing from researcher to target species, time of day when the species was observed,
ecological information such as number of animals, sexes etc., and additional comments. In
addition, trees and large shrubs (Date palm Phoenix dactylifera, Sodom’s apple Caltropis
procera, fire bush Leptadenia pyrotechnic, Acacia trees Acacia sp., ghaf trees Prosopis
cineraria and Arta Calligonum comosum were counted as well (Karim and Fawzi 2007).
During analysis, IDW (Inverse Distance Weighted Interpolation) was used to predict the
value (abundance and distribution of species sampled at each cell = quadrant) of cells at
locations that lack sampled points (ESRI 2012). Inverse distance weighted methods
determine cell values using a linear-weighted combination set of sampling points and are
based on the assumption that the interpolating surface should be influenced mostly by the
nearby points and less by the more distant points. The interpolating surface is a weighted
average of the scatter points, and the weight assigned to each scatter point diminishes as
the distance from the interpolation point to the scatter point increases. Abundance counts
over the study area were used as input and predictions were applied to all the species
recorded using ESRI® Arc Map 10.0 spatial analyst extensions.
Live traps for medium-sized animals
Three Tomahawk live traps were used during the expedition for the purpose of capturing
Gordon’s wildcat and other meso-carnivores. At the beginning of the expedition, each
survey group was given a live trap to place within their allocated zones (North, South and
Central zones). Each group marked the position of the live trap on a handheld GPS. The
live traps were baited with tinned sardines by the first group and chicken pieces by the
second group. They were left out in the field for five nights during the first and four nights
during the second group, resulting in a total of 26 trap nights. The bait was placed at the
very back of the trap (using an extendable reacher/grabber), forcing the animal to step
onto a pressure plate, triggering the trap, to reach the bait. The pressure plate was
covered with sand to give the trap a more natural appearance and to ensure that the target
species would be more at ease when entering the trap.
Figure 2.2c. Baiting a Tomahawk trap.
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Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Each morning groups set out into their zones to check each of their live traps. This
involved checking the surroundings of the traps for a possible presence/absence record
from tracks around the trap, to see if the trap had been disturbed or investigated by an
Arabian wildcat or a feral cat. Where necessary, traps were rebaited.
Small mammals trapping
Small mammals are known as indicators of ecosystem health. With increasing grazing
pressure on vegetation in the DDCR due to an increased number of ungulates in 2019,
small mammals trapping was conducted to elucidate the population status of small
mammals in the DDCR. Six rodents trapping sites (grids) were selected in three different
micro-habitats within the DDCR: Three sites were selected on sand dunes (sandy areas),
two were on gravel plains and one in rocks near Nazwa Mountain in the north (Figure
2.2a) all over the reserve. All trapping sites were between 100 m and 300 m from the main
driving tracks in the reserve, in order to be easily accessible during the trapping, especially
in the morning. Three trapping sites (grids) were set for five nights by group 1 and three
trapping sites for four nights by group 2. Each trapping grid consisted of 10 Sherman Small
mammal traps (of two different sizes) in two parallel lines of five traps each. Small
mammal traps were set and baited with oats before sunset and checked early the next
morning. Captured animals were identified, and pictures were taken of each captured
individual for further identification. Species, sex, age and general body condition of each
captured rodent was recorded and the animal was released at the point of capture. Traps
were closed every morning and set again before sunset.
Figure 2.2d. Small mammal trap in situ at a grid marker in a sandy area.
Arabian red fox den survey
The Arabian red fox is the largest predator within the DDCR, so it is important to monitor
its population. The red fox is both a nocturnal and cryptic species, so direct counts are
unreliable. A better method of monitoring the population is through a count of their dens.
This was initially done by DDCR staff in 2011 and then repeated in 2016 and 2018 with the
help of Biosphere Expeditions, when all dens were classified as either active, inactive or
abandoned based on signs of fox activity such as tracks, fresh digging, prey remains and
fresh scat.
13
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During the 2019 expedition all dens sites were revisited and once again classified based
on signs of fox activity, with an additional classification of abandoned when the den had
filled in with sand. Previously abandoned dens were not visited. In addition, any new dens
found were recorded and classified. The density estimates of red fox dens in the DDCR
were then calculated using ArcGIS software tools based on Kernel density estimates.
Figure 2.2e. Recording a fox den site.
Camera trapping
As many species in the desert environment are both nocturnal and elusive, it is difficult to
gather reliable information on their populations. A camera trap triggers when an animal
passes in front of an infrared and/or motion detector. This has the advantage of detecting
with equal efficiency both nocturnal and diurnal activities with minimal environmental
disturbance.
Seventeen camera traps (three Reconyx RC60, five Reconyx Hyperfire and nine Bushnell
Trophy Cam HD) were used during the expedition and distributed across the four zones.
Predetermined quadrants in each of the zones were chosen for the survey groups to set
their camera traps in, close to water sources. Once again, the traps were not baited (as
this tended to attract red foxes, probably resulting in Gordon’s wildcats avoiding the sites)
and left out in the field for 12 days over two consecutive groups, resulting in 203 trap
nights in total.
14
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2.3. Results
Species encounters
Table 2.3a Species encountered during the expedition. Encounter method S = sighting, L = live trap, C= camera trap.
Common name
Latin name
Birds
Grey Francolin S C
Francolinus pondicenanus
Egyptian Goose S
Alopochen aegyptiaca
Mallard C
Anas platyhynchos
Grey Heron S C
Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron S
Ardea purpurea
Great Cormorant S
Phalacrocorax carbo
Lappet-faced Vulture S C
Torgos trachieliotos*
Pallid Harrier S C
Circus macrourus
Shikra S
Accipiter badius
Long-legged Buzzard S
Buteo rufinus*
Bonellis Eagle S C
Hieraaetus fascitus
Common Kestrel S
Falco tinnunculus
MacQueen’s Bustard S C
Chlamydotis macqueenii*
Red-wattled Lapwing S C
Vanellus indicus
Common Moorhen S C
Gallinula chloropus
Black-winged Stilt S C
Himantopus himantopus
Green Sandpiper S C
Tringa ochropus
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse S C
Pterocles exustus
Feral Pigeon S C
Columba livia
Eurasian Collared Dove S C
Streptopelia decaocto
Laughing Dove S C
Spilopelia senegalensis
Pharaoh Eagle-Owl S C
Bubo ascalaphus*
Eurasian Hoopoe S
Upupa epops
Green Bee-Eater S
Merops orientalis
Southern Grey Shrike S C
Lanius meridionalis
Arabian Babbler S
Turdoides squamiceps
Brown-necked Raven S C
Corvus ruficollis
White-eared Bulbul S
Pycnonotus leucogenys
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark S
Eremopterix nigriceps
Greater Hoopoe-lark S
Alaeman alaudipes
Crested Lark S C
Galerida cristata
Sand Martin S
Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow S
Hirundo rustica
Lesser Whitethroat S
Sylvia carruca
Asian Desert Warbler S
Sylvia nana
Common Mynah S
Acridotheres tristis
Eastern Back Redstart S
Phoenicurus ochruros
Desert Wheatear S
Oenanthe deserti
House Sparrow S C
Passer domesticus
Tawny Pipit S
Anthus caneestris
15
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Table 2.3a (continued) Species encountered during the expedition. Encounter method S = sighting, L = live trap, C=
camera trap.
Common name
Latin name
Arthropods
Wolf Spider S
Lycosidae sp.
Black Scorpion S
Androctonus crassicauda
Arabian Death Stalker S
Apishobuthus pterygocercus
Striped Mantis S
Blepharopsis mendica fabricius
Desert Locust S
Schistocerca gregaria
Silverfish S
Desert Runner (ant) S
Cataglyphis niger
Giant Ant S
Camponotus xerxes
Arabian Paper Wasp S
Polistes watti
Arabian Darkling Beetle S
Pimelia arabica
Urchin Beetle S
Priionotheca cornata
Silver-striped Hawk Moth S
Hyles livornica esper
Painted Lady S
Vanessa cardui
Globe Skimmer S
Pantala flavescens
Vagrant Emperor S
Anax ephithenope
Bloody Scarlet Dragonfly S
Crocothemis sanguinolenta
Mammals
Arabian Oryx S C
Oryx leucoryx*
Arabian Gazelle S C
Gazella arabica*
Sand Gazelle S C
Gazella marica*
Arabian Wild Cat
Felis slivestris
Arabian Red Fox S C
Vulpes vulpes arabica*
Feral Cat S C
Felis catus
Arabian Hare S
Lepus capensis
House Mouse S
Mus musculus
Egyptian Spiny Mouse L
Acomys cahirinus
Cheeseman’s Gerbil L
Gerbillus cheesmani
Arabian Jird S
Meriones arimalius
Reptiles
Arabian Toad-headed Agama S
Phrynocephalus arabicus
White Spotted Lizard S
Acanthodactylus schmidti
Fringe-toed Sand Lizard S
Acanthodactylus gongrorhynchatus
Least Semaphore Gecko S
Pristurus minimus
Dune Sand Gecko S
Stenodactylus doriae
Sandfish S
Scincus scincus
*During the 2019 expedition the following target species numbers were recorded by 1,002
random observations and 62 circular observations: 1,890 Arabian oryx, 1,270 Arabian
gazelle, 317 sand gazelle, 1 red fox, 13 MacQueen’s bustard, 15 lappet-faced vulture and
4 pharaoh eagle owl.
16
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Quadrant survey (including oryx, gazelles and vegetation surveys)
Over the years, the ungulate counts conducted by Biosphere Expeditions are inconsistent
with those resulting from weekly counts by DDCR staff, using their established
methodology. These focus mainly on wildlife support infrastructure such as feed spots,
waterholes and irrigated areas. This may be a result of the differing emphases of the
expeditions, year to year, which can result in skewed data (see Figure 2.3a). For example,
when the expedition focussed primarily body condition scoring, citizen scientists spent
more time with oryx herds, resulting higher counts than from simple observations. In 2018
it was decided to concentrate on collecting good data from all the circular observations as
well as focused counts at all the feed spots, to ensure a more accurate count of the
ungulate populations and to elucidate distribution.
In a nutshell, weekly feed point counts are made on the main tracks or roads in the reserve
by DDCR staff while providing animal feed in the morning, so this will only count animals
along the main tracks (roads) going to the feed points, water holes and farms. In contrast,
during the expedition’s circular observations, citizen scientists walk to the centre of each
quadrant to observe and record the animals there, which provides a clearer picture of
animal distribution. This, combined with the counts made by DDCR staff and also those by
the expedition at feed points, yields a good overall picture of animal distribution and
numbers in the reserve.
Arabian oryx
825 Arabian oryx were counted during in the 2019 expedition during circular observations
and at feed spots. An emphasis was placed on collecting good data from all circular
observations. Results were combined with focused counts at all feed spots in an attempt to
determine an accurate count of the Arabian oryx in the DDCR. DDCR staff weekly counts
recorded 667 Arabian oryx during the same period. Combining these counting methods,
the Arabian oryx population is estimated to be between 700 and 850 individuals. As such,
population of Arabian oryx in 2019 have increased by nearly 20% compared to the 2018
counts results (see Figure 2.3a).
Arabian gazelle
The 2019 expedition counted 167 Arabian gazelle, significantly lower than the figure
arrived at by DDCR weekly counts (425), which is considered a more accurate estimate of
the Arabian gazelles in the reserve and indicates a population increase (see Figure 2.3a).
The 2019 expedition data yielded more a accurate distribution of Arabian gazelles and
indicated a wider distribution, compared to 2018. This can be attributed to a population
increase of at least 20%. Despite the differences in expedition and DDCR weekly count
results, the expedition count helps DDCR management understand the distribution of the
Arabian gazelle species in the reserve. In addition, it is useful to use more than one
method for population estimates. The expedition quadrat survey method is particularly
useful in understanding population distributions, whilst the DDCR weekly counts are most
useful for population estimations.
17
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Figure 2.3a. Comparative chart of ungulate numbers recorded by the expedition (intensive survey of one to two weeks duration, once a year)
and DDCR staff feedspot counts (during the same week as the expedition).
18
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Sand gazelle
The count of 105 sand gazelle was similar to the 2018 result (132), albeit slightly lower.
The expedition number broadly agrees with the weekly DDCR counts, which estimate a
sand gazelle population of 80-120 individuals within the DDCR.
Large shrub (vegetation) survey
A repeat survey following the 2017 methodology described in Simkins and Hammer (2018)
counted nearly 19,642 plants during circular observations in 2019. During the survey the
dominant species were the fire bush (17,422), followed by Ghaf trees (1,448), widely
distributed Acacia acacia trees (514), date palms, mainly in farms (175), Arta (14) and
Sodom’s apple (66). Only three desert thorn were counted during the 2019 survey.
Live traps for medium-sized animals
Three traps were set for five nights for a total of 15 trap nights during the first group and
three traps were set for four nights for a total of 12 trap nights during the second group.
The 2019 expedition did not result in any meso-carnivores being captured. Tracks of red
foxes and cats were recorded around the traps, but no individuals entered. In the second
week the bait was also changed from canned sardine fish to chicken pieces to attract the
targeted species, but without success. The northern trap was triggered with no capture,
and due to strong winds fox or cat tracks were seen.
Small mammals trapping
Small mammals trapping consisted of 268 trapping nights over six grids and resulted in a
total of 28 captures, which included two species: 25 Cheeseman’s gerbils (Gerbillus
cheesmani) (16 males, 7 females, 2 unknown) and 3 Egyptian spiny mouse (Acomys
cahirinus) (1 male, 2 unknown) (Figure 2.3b). The total trapping success rate was 10%. 10
traps were triggered without captures being made, representing a 3% trapping failure rate
(false trigger) (Table 2.3c)
The largest number of successful captures were recorded in area RS3, where 13
Cheeseman’s gerbils were captured. The next highest number was recorded in area RS4
with 11 of the same species captured. Both sites were within the sandy dune habitat. In
the rocky area (RS5), three Egyptian spiny mouse were captured. One Cheeseman’s
gerbil was captured in the RS2 gravel area. In the RS1 gravel area and RS6 sandy area
no small mammals were captured, although tracks of small mammals were recorded
around traps in RS1 and RS6.
Of the 28 total captures, 18 rodents (64%) were made by long Sherman traps and ten
rodents (36%) were captured by the more commonly-used short Sherman traps. Both
types of trap were effective and successful in trapping gerbils and spiny mouse but, no jird
species were trapped with either.
19
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Table 2.3c. Results of small mammals trapping 2019.
Trapping
area
Habitat
Group
Trap
nights
Individuals
captured
Success
rate
Failed
traps
Failure
rate
Species
captured
RS1
Gravel
2
40
0
0%
4
10%
None
RS2
Gravel
1
50
1
2%
1
2%
Cheeseman's gerbil
RS3
Sand
2
40
13
33%
0
0%
Cheeseman's gerbil
RS4
Sand
2
38
11
29%
0
0%
Cheeseman's gerbil
RS5
Rocky
1
50
3
6%
0
0%
Egyptian spiny mouse
RS6
Sandy
1
50
0
0%
5
10%
None
Total
268
28
10
20
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Figure 2.3b. Cheeseman's gerbil (top) and Egyptian spiny mouse (bottom) captured during trapping sessions.
21
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Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Arabian red fox den survey
Results of the survey can be found in Table 2.3b. In total 92 dens were surveyed by the
2019 expedition team of which 62 had previously been classified as active or inactive (53
in 2018, 9 in 2017). In addition, 30 new dens were identified. Results found 15 dens active,
29 dens inactive and 48 dens abandoned. The 2019 survey shows a 37% increase in the
number of active dens compared to 2018, including 1 inactive den, which became active
again. New den sites identified in 2019 increased to 30 (11 active and 19 inactive)
compared to only 15 new sites found in 2018 (Simkins and Hammer 2018). Dens recorded
as abandoned during previous years were not included in the survey.
Table 2.3b. Results of the Arabian red fox den surveys in 2011 and 2016-2019.
Status
2011
2016
2017
2018
2019
Active
66
59
24
11
15
Inactive
95
52
40
42
29
Abandoned
0
57
138
167
48
TOTAL
161
168
202
220
92
Status changes
Unchanged
55
65
138
18
New Active
4
14
7
11
Inactive to Active
25
2
2
1
Abandoned to Active
0
0
2
-*
New Inactive
3
24
8
19
Active to Inactive
24
3
10
2
Abandoned to Inactive
0
5
11
-*
New Abandoned
0
7
0
0
Active to Abandoned
12
43
17
6
Inactive to Abandoned
45
39
25
35
Not Surveyed
0
11
10
167*
* Old Abandoned dens not surveyed in 2019.
22
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Figure 2.4f. Arabian red fox den distribution in 2019 and 2018.
23
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Camera trapping
Of the 17 traps set, camera trap no. 2 malfunctioned and images recorded by this camera
trap were discounted. A total of 203 trapping days captured 21,697 images of which
17,079 contained an identifiable subject. 14,515 individual records (Images) of naturally
occurring native fauna were recorded, as well as 2,137 of humans or vehicles (Figure
2.3c). 28 wildlife species and one feral species (a feral cat) were captured during the
trapping effort.
A large number of bird species (23) was recorded this year. The most significant bird or
captured were lappet-faced vultures from three camera traps. Important records of pallid
harrier and Bonelli's eagle were also made (Table 2.3d). A single record of a MacQueen’s
bustard was made (Figure 2.3d). Large numbers of Eurasian collared doves (3,913) were
recorded over 12 different camera trap locations. An additional 19 bird species were also
recorded on identified from the photos camera traps (Table 2.3d).
Arabian oryx was the most abundant and widespread species, with 20,259 recorded
capture events (total number of oryx in all the photos) from photos from almost all the
camera traps. The following recordings of the other target species were made: 4,696
Arabian gazelle from 14 traps, 2,202 sand gazelle from eight traps, 331 Arabian red fox
from 10 traps (2.3e), and also 570 Feral cats from one trap. Three images of the same
Arabian wildcat were also captured by camera trap no. 11 (2.3f).
Figure 2.3c. Results of camera trapping 2019.
24
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Table 2.3d. Results of camera trapping 2019.
Camera trap number
Latitude
Longitude
Arabian oryx
Arabian gazelle
Sand gazelle
Arabian red fox
Arabian wild cat
Feral cat
Lappet-faced vulture
Pallid harrier
Bonelli's eagle
Asian houbara
Black-winged stilt
Red-wattled lapwing
Chestnut-bellied
sandgrouse
Rock dove
Eurasian collared
dove
Laughing dove
Eagle owl
Great grey shrike
Total
02
55.664883
24.883596
Malfunction
03
55.660494
24.869189
331
1
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
19
0
0
352
04
55.665463
24.900862
138
8
32
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
2
0
0
181
05
55.671316
24.788967
78
52
36
0
0
0
9
0
0
0
0
12
0
0
0
0
0
0
187
06
55.717717
24.779527
64
95
97
26
0
0
0
0
12
0
0
0
0
0
495
67
0
0
856
07
55.647524
24.766422
5065
146
835
74
0
0
0
11
0
0
0
0
35
481
146
174
6
3
6976
08
55.662777
24.980824
946
187
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
7
0
0
0
1140
09
55.677639
24.870299
301
3
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
304
11
55.656984
24.74116
2135
0
671
14
3
0
123
3
0
0
0
0
0
0
15
39
0
24
3027
12
55.685833
24.804671
50
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
6
0
0
0
56
13
55.659817
24.8203
12
2234
0
33
0
571
0
0
0
0
0
90
0
216
279
14
0
0
3449
14
55.717691
24.819276
712
209
0
90
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
117
27
0
0
1155
15
55.613695
24.885371
545
24
0
4
0
0
6
12
0
0
1
0
0
0
6
15
0
0
613
16
55.634344
24.855114
3033
1157
161
82
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
277
62
0
0
4772
17
55.703251
24.820728
3010
29
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
3
0
0
0
3042
19
55.613408
24.795528
3541
482
369
4
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
61
2536
39
0
0
7032
20
55.699843
24.841635
298
69
1
3
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
26
15
0
6
418
Total
20259
4696
2202
331
3
571
138
26
12
1
1
102
35
758
3913
473
6
33
33560
25
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Figure 2.3d. A single MacQueen’s was bustard also captured in Tawi Ruwayan irrigated area by camera trap number 4.
26
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Figure 2.3e. Red fox captured near a water point by camera trap number 14.
27
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Figure 2.3f. Arabian wild cat captured at camera trap number 11.
28
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2.4. Discussion and Conclusions
Quadrant survey (including oryx, gazelles and vegetation surveys)
The relatively high numbers of ungulates within the DDCR continues to be a challenge in
terms of the need to balance animal welfare with the health of the desert ecosystem.
Supplying supplementary feed for the oryx herd addresses both of these aspects, by
making additional food available to individuals while limiting the impact of overgrazing on
the ecosystem. The 2019 Expedition quadrant survey contributed to understanding the
current distribution of all three ungulates species in DDCR. The DDCR staff weekly counts
show a clear increase of nearly 20% in the Arabian oryx and Arabian gazelle populations
in 2019 when compared to 2018 counts.
Good nutrition results in higher breeding success and can lead to faster population growth,
which is not sustainable long-term. To reduce the number of ungulates on the reserve this
year, management have succeeded in gaining approval for ungulate holding enclosures
outside the DDCR. In addition, efforts are being made to translocate animals to other
reserves within the natural home range of the species.
Arabian oryx
In 2019 Arabian oryx were distributed all over the DDCR, a change 2018 patterns. We
believe this is mainly due to their increasing numbers and therefore competition and a
subsequent need for dispersal. The predicted distribution of Arabian oryx across the
DDCR is highly concentrated, mainly around the feed points and irrigated areas (Figure
2.4a), where food is easily found.
Arabian gazelle
The main concentration of Arabian gazelle is in the central and central south parts of the
DDCR and appears to be as a result of the adapted habitats such as the irrigated areas at
the old farms and tree plantations, which provide more food for the species (Figure 2.4b).
Sand gazelle
The predicted distribution of sand gazelle has expanded from that observed in 2018. Sand
gazelle were recorded in most parts of the reserve. Higher concentrations are consistently
observed in the south of the DDCR in the dunes, which is the species’ preferred habitat, as
well as around the irrigated areas (see Figure 2.4c), where there is food to be found.
Large shrub (vegetation) survey
Predicted distributions of two shrub species (fire bush and Sodom’s apple, both important
indicator species for the reserve’s habitats), based on 2019 observations, were compared
with those from 2017 (see Figures 2.4d & e). Sodom’s apple shows a reduction in
predicted distribution (see Figures 2.4f), due to increasing numbers of Arabian gazelles,
which are often observed browsing on this species. There was no change in predicted fire
bush distribution.
29
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Live traps for medium-sized animals
Over a total of 27 trapping nights, no meso-carnivore species were trapped in 2019. In
comparison, in 2018, two red foxes and one feral cat were captured over only 15 trapping
nights. It may be that the number of red foxes and wild cats in the DDCR is decreasing.
More research would be needed to determine this. A larger trapping effort through
increasing the number of traps in all three zones will be made during future Biosphere
Expeditions surveys, in an attempt to capture the target species of Arabian wild cat, sand
fox and red fox.
Small mammal trapping
Small mammal trapping resulted in the capture of 28 individuals from two species; namely
Cheeseman’s gerbil and Egyptian spiny mouse. No Baluchistan gerbil, Arabian jird and
Sandevalls jird were captured, although Arabian jirds were recorded by expedition team
members in south of DDCR. Two different sizes of Sherman trap were used during the
small mammal during 2019, which improved our understanding of which traps are more
effective for different species.
Red fox den survey
High den densities were found, as expected, within relatively well-vegetated areas,
dominated by large shrubs, in particular Leptadenia pyrotechnica, which meet the habitat
requirements of providing a stable soil substrate supported by the shrub’s root system. No
major changes were seen in den densities from 2018 to 2019, although more active and
inactive dens were recorded in the south of the DDCR (Figure 2.4g). In the central part of
the DDCR more active dens were recorded than in 2018.
In 2019 only active and inactive dens were surveyed and additional training was provided
on the identification of fox dens and their classification. In 2019, 30 new den sites were
discovered, compared to 15 new sites in 2018 (Simkins and Hammer 2018b). But
compared to 2017, 2016 and 2011 the density of red fox dens in the DDCR decreased in
2018 and 2019. This could be due to a decrease in the prey base because of the current
unfavourable vegetation conditions. Vegetation is deteriorating due to a combination of
reasons including drought and large numbers of ungulates which exceed the optimum
vegetation carrying capacity. In return this affects the small mammal population, which is
the main prey base for red foxes. However, a good number of red fox pictures (331) were
captured from 10 different camera traps this year, which is a positive indicator of the status
of the red fox population and their distribution in the reserve.
30
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Camera trapping
The camera traps provided an excellent return of pictures, with the 2019 expedition being
of the most successful for camera trapping. The majority of pictures captured were of
native fauna (67%). Double the camera trapping effort (13 trapping days) of previous
years, yielded a record number of pictures: 21,697, showing 29 species. The most
frequently recorded species was Arabian oryx with 10,571 pictures. Photos of the lappet-
faced vulture using the waterhole for bathing are significant records for this species, of
which little is known of their ecology in the northern Arabian Peninsula. Among the target
mammal species within the DDCR, the rare Arabian wildcat was recorded and confirmed
once and red foxes were also recorded by several camera traps. Among the other
important species captured by camera traps this year were the Pallid harrier, Bonelli's
eagle, long-legged buzzard, Pharaoh eagle-owl and chestnut-bellied sand grouse. No
Sand fox were recorded by camera trap this year. Continued camera trap surveys are
therefore still needed to monitor the presence of these important species in DDCR.
Management considerations
The high ungulate population within the DDCR continues to be the major challenge for its
management. This is naturally a concern during dry years as there is less food available
for all herbivorous species. Even more concerning is the fact that these high ungulate
numbers will hinder recovery of the habitat even in wet years. Results presented here
support the notion that this is likely to be affecting the small mammal and red fox
populations as well.
Therefore, it is now a priority to drastically reduce the numbers of ungulates within the
reserve. As it has not been possible to translocate animals to other protected areas at a
rate that would reduce or even maintain the DCCR population, and because there is an
on-going genetic study of the Arabian oryx, it has been decided that the majority of oryx
will be relocated to enclosures adjacent to the reserve and the sexes separated, to prevent
a further increase in the population while at the same time relieving pressure on the
natural habitat within the DDCR. Implementation of this plan will start in February 2020
upon the completion of the enclosures.
Overall, the DDCR plans over the next five years to move to lower numbers of ungulates,
but increase the diversity of species through both natural processes, as the habitat quality
improves, but also through some potential species re-introductions once the habitat has
recovered. It is hoped that Biosphere Expeditions citizen scientists will continue to play an
important role in studying the effects of these management actions.
31
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4a. Arabian oryx distribution 2019 vs. 2018. Predicted distribution calculations are based on a combination of both random and circular observation data.
32
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4b. Arabian gazelle distribution 2019 vs. 2018. Predicted distribution calculations are based on a combination of both random and circular observation data.
33
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4c. Sand gazelle distribution 2019 vs. 2018. Predicted distribution calculations are based on a combination of both random and circular observation data.
34
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4d. Fire bush distribution 2019 vs. 2017.
35
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4e. Sodom’s apple distribution 2019 vs. 2017. Predicted distribution calculations are based on observation data.
36
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Figure 2.4f. Arabian red fox den distribution in 2019 and 2018.
37
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Recommended activities and actions for the 2020 expedition
The kind of citizen science projects run by Biosphere Expeditions are ideally suited to the
DDCR’s research needs, which require a large area to be surveyed in a short period of
time. Therefore:
Due to the drastic reduction in active dens, the red fox den survey will again be of
particular importance in 2020, as continued declines in the number of active dens
could be significant for the reserve’s population of red fox. Additional training will be
provided for the identification of fox dens and their classification. This will include
recording new dens, as 30 new dens were found during the 2019 expedition.
Camera trapping will be continued as we survey the DDCR for the presence and
distribution of Gordon’s wildcat and sand fox.
We will continue to do live trapping for Arabian wildcat as well as Sand fox in the
reserve, increasing the trapping effort (number of traps) in each zone. Emphasis will
also be placed on the collection of morphological data of individuals captured within
the DDCR as little is known about the morphology of the species from the wild.
Small mammal trapping will be continued in 2020. We will change the locations of
two of the survey grids, and increase the number of traps per grid, to investigate the
distribution of small predators prey species. Also, if possible, morphological data
from the captured individuals will be collected as limited information on the
morphology especially of jird species is available from DDCR.
Fixed point photography will be added as one of the main activities of the 2020
expedition. This will take place on pre-selected locations in the DDCR to record
changes in vegetation condition due to grazing pressure.
We will continue the quadrant survey with circular observations as carried out in
2019. This provides the DDCR management with valuable data on the size and
distribution of many species across the entire reserve.
38
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
2.5. Literature cited
Bell, S., P. Roosenschoon, G. Simkins, M. Hammer and A. Stickler (2013a) Ways of the
desert: conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert
Conservation Reserve, United Arab Emirates. Expedition report 2012 available via
www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports.
Bell, S., M. Hammer and A. Stickler (2013b) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx,
Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United
Arab Emirates. Expedition report 2013 available via www.biosphere-
expeditions.org/reports.
Bell, S. and M. Hammer (2014) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s
wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United Arab
Emirates. Expedition report 2014 available via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports.
Bell, S. and M. Hammer (2015) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s
wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United Arab
Emirates. Expedition report 2015 available via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports.
Berger, J. (2002) Wolves, landscapes, and the ecological recovery of Yellowstone. Wild
Earth. 2002 (Spring): 327.
ESRI® (Environmental Systems Resource Institute) (2012) ArcMap™ 10.1. Copyright ©
1999-2012 ESRI Inc., Redlands, California. USA.
Karim, F. and Fawzi, N. (2007) Flora of the United Arab Emirates, UAE University, UAE.
Simkins, G., S. Bell and M. Hammer (2016) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx,
Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United
Arab Emirates. Expedition report 2016 available via www.biosphere-
expeditions.org/reports.
Simkins, G. and M. Hammer (2018) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx,
Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United
Arab Emirates. Expedition report 2017 available via www.biosphere-
expeditions.org/reports.
Simkins, G. and M. Hammer (2019) Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx,
Gordon’s wildcat and other species of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, United
Arab Emirates. Expedition report 2018 available via www.biosphere-
expeditions.org/reports.
Weis, A., T. Kroeger, J. Haney and N. Fascione (2007) Predator-Prey Workshop: Social
and Ecological Benefits of Restored Wolf Populations. Transactions of the 72th North
American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, Portland, Oregon.
39
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international not-for-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
Appendix I: Expedition reports, publications, diary & further information
Project updates, reports and publications:
https://www.researchgate.net/project/UAE-Protecting-desert-habitats-and-species-of-the-
Dubai-Desert-Conservation-Reserve-through-citizen-science
All expedition reports, including this and previous expedition reports:
https://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports
Expedition diary/blog:
https://blog.biosphere-expeditions.org/category/expedition-blogs/arabia-2019/
Expedition details, background, pictures, videos, etc.
https://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Research
Full-text available
Abstract The successful collaboration between Biosphere Expeditions and the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), initiated in 2012, continues. Citizen scientists collected data on nine target species, namely the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), Gordon’s wildcat (Felis silvestris gordoni), mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella), sand gazelle (Gazella leptoceros), Arabian red fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica), sand fox (Vulpes rueppellii), Macqueen’s bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii), lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) and Pharaoh eagle owl (Bubo ascalaphus) for a week from 11 - 18 January 2014. Data gathered alerted the DDCR management to several conservation issues and also allowed for informed, fact-based management decisions to be made in a showcase of how the work of citizen scientist volunteers can aid the efforts of conservation professionals. In 2013 Biosphere Expeditions monitored Arabian oryx herd health and found severe undernourishment. As a result, DDCR management increased supplementary feeding. In 2014, the expedition body scored 278 Arabian oryx for herd health again, resulting in an average score of 2.9, which is just below the fit and healthy score of 3.0. This is a highly satisfactory management result and body score monitoring will continue. A total of 206 mountain gazelles and 159 sand gazelles were counted during the expedition. Since the majority of these are likely to be separate individuals, the numbers found for both species are alarmingly high. It is already evident that under current conditions the reserve cannot sustain the present oryx and gazelle populations without significant supplementary feeding. Furthermore, previous vegetation surveys have shown that the DDCR vegetation is already showing clear signs of overgrazing. Therefore a major management concern is the establishment of a gazelle carrying capacity for the DDCR, as well as self-sustaining control measures. Such control measures may in future include the removal of antelopes from the reserve through translocation and the introduction of an apex predator such as the Arabian wolf or hyaena to apply top down pressure to the antelope populations. There were no live captures of Gordon’s wildcats or feral cats during this expedition and no Gordon’s wildcats were photographed by camera traps. However, there was a possible presence observed during the expedition in terms of tracks. It is difficult to assess whether the DDCR’s Gordon’s wildcat population is stable, increasing or declining and more trapping is needed to assess this. Major threats to the Gordon’s wildcat in the DDCR are likely to be the availability of food, as well as hybridisation with feral cats. A rare sand fox was caught by the expedition for the first time in the history of the DDCR, As a result of this capture, further expeditions will start targeting this species in an attempt to obtain more information about it. Population modelling using the IDW (Inverse Distance Weighted Interpolation) and diversity indices methods show distributions in accordance with feed points and habitat preferences. Oryx populations are concentrated around the feed points, as are gazelles. Mountain gazelle distribution also follows their preferred stony/rocky habitat distribution. The Macqueen’s bustard population is small and very confined to specific areas of the DDCR. A small increase in numbers has been noticed. The lappet-faced vulture is seen fairly regularly as there is a good food source on the DDCR for them. The goal for both species is to have them breed in the reserve in future. Pharaoh eagle owl is a concern and numbers are on the decline, probably due to the scarcity of rain over the past few years, which has affected the vegetation and thereby rodents, which are the owl’s primary food source. الملخص العربى مازال التعاون الناجح بين إدارة محمية دبى الصحراوية وبرنامج بعثات المحيط الحيوى مستمراَ والذى بدأ مع العام 2012م حيث أستمر تجميع البيانات الحقلية بواسطة متطوعين من عامة الناس للعديد من الحيوانات البرية وهى ( المها العربى، القط جوردون البرى، الغزال الأدمى، وغزال الريم والثعلب الأحمر وثعلب الرمال وطائر الحبارى والعقاب النوبى وكذلك البوم الصحراوى) وذلك لمدة أسبوع من كل عام وكان خلال أيام (11 إلى 18 يناير 2014م) حيث ساعدت البيانات المجموعة إدارة محمية دبى الصحراويةعلى إتخاذ قرارات بيئية ناجحة ساهمت فى تعزيز التعاون الناجح بين المتطوعين المهتمين بالبيئة والعاملين بالمحمية. قام برنامج بعثات المحيط الحيوى فى عام 2013م بدراسة حالة قطعان المها العربى وخلص إلى نتيجة مفادها أن المها العربي يعاني من نقص حاد في التغذية وكنتيجة لذلك قامت إدارة المحمية بمضاعفة كميات العلف المقدمة لقطعان المها العربى لتعويض ذلك النقص فى التغذية. قام فريق المتطوعين لبعثات المحيط الحيوى فى العام 2014م بدراسة وتسجيل عدد 278 رأس من المها العربى وذلك لتقييم الحالة العامة للمها مرة أخرى وكانت النتيجة تسجيل تحسن ملحوظ لعدد 209 رأس من المها العربى والتى دلت على حالة صحية وبدنية جيدة للمها مما كان له من أثار إيجابية لإدارة المحمية وسوف يتم الأستمرار بتسجيل البيانات الدورية لسنوات قادمة. خلال فترة الدراسة تم تسجيل عدد 206 رأس من الغزال الأدمى وتسجيل عدد 159 رأس من غزال الريم وتبعاً لطبيعة توزيع الغزلان المنتشر فى كل أنحاء المحمية فأن تلك الأعداد تعد مؤشراً تحذيرياً للزيادة الكبيرة لأعداد الغزلان بالمحمية ولقد ثبت بالدليل القاطع انه تبعاً للظروف الراهنة من كثافة الغطاء النباتى فإن الكتلة الإحيائية النباتية فى المحمية لا يمكنها من توفير المرعى الطبيعى المناسب للحيوانات الرعوية البرية بالمحمية من غير التدخل البشرى بإمداد المحمية بالمزيد من الأعلاف. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، فأن الدراسات التقيمية للغطاء النباتى السابقة قد أثبتت تدهور الغطاء النباتى بالمحمية نتيجة للرعى الزائد ولذلك فأن الضرورة الملحة حاليا تقتضى تقييم القيم الرعوية لأراضى المراعى الجافة بالمناطق المحمية لمحمية دبى الصحراوية مع الاخذ فى الأعتبار التحكم فى معايير الإستدامة ومنها، التخلص من بعض أعداد قطعان المها والغزال عن طريق النقل للمحميات الأخرى والمزارع الخاصة أو إدخال حيوان مفترس رئيسى كالذئب العربى أو الضبع المخطط حتى يتم التحكم بصورة طبيعية فى أعداد قطعان الحيوانات البرية الرعوية. لم يتم تسجيل القط جوردون البري أو أى من القطط الضالة فى أى من المصائد التى نصبت خلال تلك الفترة وكذلك من خلال مصائد الكاميرات ايضاً. بالرغم من ذلك، كان هناك إحتمالية للتواجد فى المنطقة من خلال كشف وتسجيل أثار أقدام تلك الحيوانات. كان من الصعب خلال تلك الفترة تقييم ثبات أعداد القط البري أو من حيث الزيادة أو النقصان وخلصت التوصية بزيادة أعداد المصائد المستخدمة فى السنوات التالية لتقييم أفضل للأعداد المحتمل تواجدها. خلصت الدراسة أيضاً إلى أن المهددات الحقيقية للقط جوردون البري هيا نقص الغذاء المتاح وكذلك عمليات التلقيح الخلطي بين القط البري والقطط الضالة. تم تسجيل أول ثعلب رمال فى مصيدة من المصائد وذلك لأول مرة في تاريخ محمية دبي الصحراوية ونتيجة لذلك سوف يتم توجيه الأنتباه فى الرحلات الحقلية التالية لذلك النوع لدراسته بصورة مستفيضة وتسجيل أكبر قدر ممكن من البيانات عنه. أظهرت نتائج توزيع الأنواع بإستخدام طريقة (بعد المسافات العكسي) لكل مناطق الدراسة وكذلك طرق مؤشرات التنوع الحيوى أن توزيع قطعان الحيوانات الرعوية البرية يعتمد على توزيع نقاط العلف وكذلك أفضلية البيئات لكل نوع على حدة، حيث تتركز توزيعات قطعان المها العربى وغزال الريم حول نقاط إمداد العلف أما بالنسبة للغزال الأدمى فالأفضلية لنوعية البيئات التى ينتشر بها والمناسبة لذلك النوع. أثبتت الدراسات أن أعداد طيور الحبارى قليلة وتقتصر على مناطق محددة جداً بمحمية دبي الصحراوية ولقد تم ملاحظة زيادة طفيفة فى أعداد الحبارى بالإضافة إلى تسجيل مشاهدة العقاب النوبى بصورة منتظمة وذلك لتوافر الغذاء المناسب له فى المحمية. تهدف إدارة المحمية إلى تكاثر الحبارى والعقاب النوبى بصورة طبيعية فى المحمية فى المستقبل القريب. أما بالنسبة للبوم الصحراوى فأن أعداده فى نقصان ربما يرجع ذلك لقلة الأمطار فى الأعوام الاخيرة والتى أثرت بالسلب على الغطاء النباتى وبالتالى على أعداد القوارض والتى هى المصدر الأولى لغذاء البوم الصحراوى.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Recognition that the wolf has both extrinsic and intrinsic value allows identification of many benefits that result from restored wolf populations. The term benefits need not be limited or limiting if the philosophical discourse is broadened beyond extrinsic values attached to wolf presence. Such expansion can be contextualized against a backdrop of simultaneous evolution in the breadth of Western Civilization’s cultural, philosophical and scientific foundations.
Wolves, landscapes, and the ecological recovery of Yellowstone. Wild Earth
  • J Berger
Berger, J. (2002) Wolves, landscapes, and the ecological recovery of Yellowstone. Wild Earth. 2002 (Spring): 32-7.