x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A living desert

Those who think of the desert as empty do not understand what a rich ecosystem it is, home to many creatures great and small. It is, however, also fragile, and the flora and fauna there need protection.

The desert teems with life. It's just that we don't see it during the day, as most desert reptiles and mammals are nocturnal. A report yesterday detailed the efforts of one self-taught wildlife photographer, Ajmal Hasan, to protect snakes who feed off rats and mice.

It may be difficult to stir warm and cosy feelings about a snake, but just think about the fragile desert ecosystem. Destroy all the snakes and the rodent population would explode.

Mankind causes damage everywhere. Tonnes of dumped plastic, for example, wreak havoc on marine life. So mankind must intervene as Sharjah Aquarium officials did last week on World Oceans Day by freeing Hawksbill sea turtles into the Gulf.

Even more forceful intervention is sometimes needed. Forty years ago, the Arabian oryx was hunted nearly to extinction as hunters in 4X4 vehicles swept the desert to bring down prey with high-powered rifles.

In response, the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi launched a widespread captive breeding programme. There are now 1,000 Arabian oryx in the wild and 3,000 in captivity in the UAE - half the world's oryx population.

Plans to extend breeding programmes to other species are only right. There are plenty of candidates.

But it's not all happy endings. In 1996, 450 Arabian oryx were introduced into a sanctuary in Oman. Poachers killed all but 65.