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The fund will assist a study into distribution of the rare Vietnamese saola by searching for its DNA in parasites’ blood.
The fund will assist a study into distribution of the rare Vietnamese saola by searching for its DNA in parasites’ blood.

Fund gives Dh2m to study rare species

Fund will help 73 projects in 40 different countries.

ABU DHABI // A conservation programme is donating almost Dh2 million to help save dozens of species of animals and plants from extinction.

The Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund will help 73 projects in 40 different countries by giving Dh1.8 million to protect plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, fish and fungus.

The fund provides small grants of not more than Dh91,800 to on-the-ground conservation projects that have a specific research purpose.

"In a few short years the fund has already become a world leader in providing this type of targeted financial support," said Razan Al Mubarak, managing director of the fund.

Most of the grants go to scientists working with animals and plants that are classified as either critically endangered or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

One such creature is the Sinai baton blue butterfly (pseudophilotes sinaicus).

The size of a thumbnail, the world's smallest butterfly lives in a territory of only seven square kilometres in Egypt, on Mount Sinai and a few surrounding peaks. Because of the small area and the fact it is solely dependent upon one plant, Sinai thyme, the butterfly is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

For the second time, the fund is giving a grant to Francis Gilbert, associate professor at the UK's University of Nottingham, who is studying the butterfly and testing a hypothesis that the grazing goats of Bedouin tribes can encourage its plant host to grow in larger numbers. Dr Gilbert has been awarded Dh5,520.

There is a high demand for the fund's financial support, with 430 applications received between November last year and this February.

"We were able to offer our support to less than 20 per cent of projects requesting money," said Ms Al Mubarak. "Although this demonstrates our high standards, more importantly it reveals the increasing pressure on our world's threatened species.

"We wish we could give away more money to support species conservation."

In Morocco, the fund has awarded Dh18,400 to a project to study the critically endangered northern bald ibis (geronticus eremita).

Other projects to receive funding focus on species about which little is known.

One is a study of the population distribution of a rarely seen Vietnamese ungulate, the saola (pseudoryx nghetinhensis), with the researchers being awarded Dh18,400.

The saola, discovered only 20 years ago, is so rarely seen and secretive that scientists will look for traces of its DNA in the blood sucked by leeches living in the area.

The same grant was awarded to a team in Colombia that is researching the rare Dracula orchid (Dracula gorgona). It grows out of litter on the ground and flowers in beautiful ivory blooms speckled with red or dark purple.

The fund was established in 2008 through an endowment by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Since its launch the body has distributed Dh28.3 million to nearly 700 projects in more than 115 countries.

Projects from the UAE, Oman, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Yemen have received a total of Dh514,000.

"The fund is a global initiative and we are aiming to reach out to as many conservationists across the globe as possible," said Ms Al Mubarak. "In the region, we have engaged with researchers and universities to increase the number of applications."

More grants area to be awarded before the end of September.

vtodorova@thenational.ae

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