Arabian Tahr gets royal protection
The Wadi is a 129 km-square catchment that occupies the northern reaches of Fujairah between the towns of Masafi, Khor Fakkan and Bidiyah, and is an important natural and cultural region in the Middle East.
The area has been an important source of water for local communities for thousands of years, and is home to rare and endangered species such as the Arabian Tahr and Arabian Leopard.
The Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is considered critically endangered with less than 250 adult leopards left, according to the IUCN Red List. The Arabian Tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) is endangered, with fewer than 2,500 adults in the wild. Both species face threats from hunting and habitat loss because of development.
In addition, the Wadi is located within WWF’s Ecoregion 127 Arabian Highlands and Shrublands, one of the conservation organization’s global ecoregions grouping the richest, rarest and most distinctive of the Earth's natural habitats.
Under the proposed protection plan reviewed by the royal court, EWS-WWF calls for management and park rangers to patrol the area and help educate visitors. Visitors will also be fined for leaving litter behind, polluting the water and painting graffiti – problems that currently threaten the Wadi.
“Wadi Wurayah is of considerable ecological significance allowing among the rarest species found in the UAE, Arabian Peninsular and the world to survive this harsh climate,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director EWS-WWF. “Over the past 3 years, we have revealed the presence of 12 species of mammals, 73 species of birds, 17 species of reptiles and amphibians, and one species of fish and 74 invertebrate families, of which 11 are new species for science.”
More than 300 species of plants have been recorded in the area, including species that are found only in wetlands such as Typha dominginsis and the unique orchid species of UAE: Epipactis veratrifolia, Al Mubarak said.
His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Fujairah, issued a decree this week that officially establishes the Wadi’s protected status.
The decree comes after the completion of a successful 3 year project launched in 2006 by Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) - WWF and the Fujairah Municipality with the support of HSBC Bank Middle East ltd, to assess the importance of Wadi Wurayah for nature conservation and to establish it as a protected area.
“We are extremely excited about the decree and thank HH Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi for signing the official document, making history and securing that this gem of nature and culture is here for future generations to enjoy. We also thank Fujairah Municipality and HSBC Bank Middle East for their on-going support and dedication to this important cause,” Al Mubarak said.
The decision follows a 2006 survey Fujairah among the residents of the areas surrounding Wadi Wurayah and its visitors to measure support for the area’s protection.
The survey, conducted by EWS-WWF and students from the Higher Colleges of Technology, found that 67% of residents and visitors supported the move. Only 18% of those surveyed objected to the plan and 13% of respondents were ambivalent. Significantly, the survey also revealed the amount of wildlife seen by residents in the area has dropped dramatically over the past 10 years.
“Wadi Wurayah is an extremely important part of the UAE’s national heritage and our on-going discoveries of the species residing in the area, and support of the locals is a testament to that fact,” said Dr. Christophe Tourenq, Science and Research Manager at EWS-WWF and manager of the Wadi Wurayah project. “At the start of the project we discovered that the endangered mountain wildlife was increasingly threatened, either by direct transformation or through unregulated recreational use.”
“This decree will go a long way in ensuring the wildlife and area is closely monitored and protected for future generations,” Tourenq said.
In 1995, His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, ruler of Fujairah, created the first marine protected areas of the UAE.
“The declaration of Wadi Wurayah as the first mountain protected area of the country shows the commitment of the Fujairah government to the conservation of their natural and cultural heritage. The project also illustrates perfectly the collaboration between a local NGO, a local government to protect our heritage with the support of the private sector,” Tourenq said.