Geography of United Arab Emirates (UAE): Conservation

Geography of United Arab Emirates (UAE): Conservation Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

The government of the United Arab Emirates established the Federal Environmental Agency in 1992. Its role is one of coordination, preparing legislation on environmental topics and encouraging communication on environmental matters between the various municipalities and other groups.

This is taking place at the same time as the government is becoming increasingly involved in conservation.

In the past, the people living in what is now the UAE relied on hunting -- gazelles, oryx, birds -- to supplement their meagre diets. Then as modern vehicles and weapons replaced camels and primitive weapons, the toll on the country's wildlife increased.

The President, Sheikh Zayed, because of his awareness of the need to preserve a balance between man and the environment, banned hunting in Abu Dhabi more than 15 years ago.

Similar legislation has now been introduced in the remaining six emirates. In Fujairah, for example, the ruler has banned the shooting of leopards, lynxes and wildcats in the mountains and strongly discourages his people from hunting the scarce gazelles that remain in the emirate's remoter regions.

The waters of the UAE have also benefited from environmental awareness. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has issued a decree forbidding the catching of sea turtles or the taking of their eggs, and fines are levied on local fishermen who break the rules. Also in Fujairah, the government declared the country's first marine parks in June 1995 in order to protect the beautiful and valuable coral reefs.

In Abu Dhabi, the major oil companies whose responsibilities include the off-shore islands, have been given the job of environmental protection and millions of dollars have been spent in surveying and protecting the coast and desert and in making sure that the industry puts the environment high on its list of priorities.

The government realizes that the process of conservation requires both education and legislation. It is not an easy task to persuade a shepherd that he must no longer kill the rare Arabian leopard which is taking his goats and sheep. Or to tell a desert tribesman that he must no longer hunt the beautiful but increasingly scarce sand gazelle which his ancestors have hunted for millennia. However, through a combination of penalties, persuasion and education, the country's animals are slowly becoming safer in their natural habitats.

Because the government realizes that conversation consciousness will take time, there have been movements to establish captive breeding programmes for some of the endangered wildlife. The Arabian oryx (pictured), for example, became extinct in the wild over 20 years ago. Just before it disappeared from the desert, Sheikh Zayed ordered that a few be captured and carefully watched over. Now in the Al Ain Zoo, there are over 200 oryx and it is envisioned that they will ultimately be reintroduced into the wild.

On an island in the western region of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, several thousand gazelles run free. They are given water and food and protected from predators both human and animal. The idea here as well is that the surplus stocks be reintroduced into the desert where they can benefit from the expanding afforestation schemes.

On a smaller scale, the rare Gordon's Wild Cat, which is a relative of the domestic cat, is being bred by an individual in Dubai and also by the Dubai Zoo. Young cats from the Dubai operations have already been sent to zoos in both Europe and America.

The ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al Qassimi, has established the Arabian Leopard Trust. In a large area in the mountains which he donated for that purpose, it is planned to breed the Arabian leopard and the Caracal lynx. In another attempt to protect the country's wildlife, an area along the creek in Dubai where several thousand flamingos spend the winter has been declared a wildlife reserve and the local municipality has created a special area where it is hoped the birds will eventually breed.

As the preservation and conservation of the UAE's environment and wildlife has been given priority, there has also come a recognition that environmental issues have a world-wide rather than merely a national dimension. In 1990 the UAE joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).

Within the Gulf, the country is an active member of the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment -- ROPME -- as are the other GCC states and also Iran.

The United Arab Emirates has been extremely fortunate in being able spend substantial sums to protect its resources of land and wildlife. The results are now being recorded by scientists from all over the world. And there is a growing realization that although the environment may be a fragile one, it still contains much to delight visitor and resident alike.

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