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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Modern living threatens the future of UAE's rarest species

From rare geckos to endangered sharks, the UAE has a phenomenal wealth of wildlife diversity.

Much of it, however, is under threat, as the pressures of development, fishing, pollution and even climate change create uncertainty over the future of species.

The Emirati or Musandam leaf-toed gecko, which has the scientific name Asaccus caudivolvulus, is endemic only to the Musandam region of Oman and to the Hajar mountains in eastern UAE.

The slender, medium-sized gecko has a relatively flattened head, broad nose and distinctive, heart-shaped toes.

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Like other geckos, its skin is soft, with small scales, and the eyes are large, with pupils that contract to vertical slits in bright light.

The toes of the species also each have a pair of specialised scales — known as scansors — which are covered in thousands of microscopic hairlike structures which the gecko its grip.

Although the high Hajar mountains have not suffered from the same degree of habitat loss in more lowland regions, experts are concerned by the gecko's population numbers south of Khor Fakkan, which has seen significant urban and industrial development. There may now be less than 1,000 individuals in the country.

The green sea turtle, or Chelonia mydas, is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global organisation dedicated to protecting wildlife.

The UAE is one of 140 countries where the green turtle is a native species and worldwide numbers are falling.

Like most sea turtles, green turtles are highly migratory and often use a wide range of habitats during their lifetime.

They are particularly susceptible to population declines because of their vulnerability to human behaviours during all stages of their life-cycle: from eggs to adults.

Perhaps the most detrimental human impact is the intentional harvesting of eggs from nesting beaches. Uncontrolled development of coastal and marine habitats also adds to the threat the species faces.

Two years ago, the Emirates Wildlife Society, in association with the World Wildlife Fund, launched the Gulf Green Turtle Conservation with the aim of further enhancing conservation efforts to protect the turtle.