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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

New owl species for the UAE found in the Eastern Region

The Arabian Eagle Owl is usually found on rocky cliffs of the Saudi Arabian coast, Yemen and Oman

An Arabian Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus milesi) was spotted in the mountains of the Eastern Region for the first time in the UAE in 2017. Courtesy EWS-WWF.
An Arabian Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus milesi) was spotted in the mountains of the Eastern Region for the first time in the UAE in 2017. Courtesy EWS-WWF.

Who’s there? A new owl species for the UAE.

For the first time in recorded history, the Arabian Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus milesi) has been seen in the country, spotted in the Hajar mountains in the Eastern Region.

The elusive owl was found by Anthony Stoquert during an owl survey, organised by the Emirates Wildlife Society in cooperation with World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF) after a surprise 2015 sighting of the Omani owl (Strix omanensis) in Wadi Wurayah National Park.

Stoquert was supported by Sami Majeed, a Wadi Wurayah National Park ranger from the Fujairah municipality.

“This recent finding has been quite exciting for the EWS team, as it is undoubtedly just one of many undiscovered species that call the UAE home,” said Jacky Judas, the manager and scientific advisor of Terrestrial Biodiversity at the EWS-WWF, in a statement. “In spite of a hot and arid climate, a wide variety of resilient and fascinating species thrive in our deserts and mountain areas —not only species resident in the Arabian Peninsula, but also wintering or migrant species on their way between Asia and Africa.”

The sighting reinforces the importance of further research on the country’s biodiversity, said a statement issued by the EWS-WWF.

“Unfortunately, the rapid pace of development has become a major threat to many of these creatures,” said Mr Judas. “Thus, it is crucial, now more than ever, that we ramp up collective efforts to protect and safeguard key habitats and endangered species, all of which constitute the UAE’s rich natural heritage.”

The owl survey is funded by the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and part of a broader survey of species distribution and abundance in the Hajar mountains. It is hoped the data collected will be used to create protected areas with high biodiversity or rare, threatened or endemic species.

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The Arabian Eagle Owl is also found in Yemen, in Oman’s southern Dhofar region and the Asir mountains of south-west Saudi Arabia near the Red Sea. It lives in open woodland and on rocky outcrops with thorny shrubs. Its subspecies, the Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus) eats large insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles. The dining habits and the behaviour of the Arabian Eagle Owl remain a mystery.

The Arabian Eagle Owl can grow to 45 cm tall and weight up to 800 grams.

If such a large animal can go unnoticed for so long, asked Mr Jacky, what else is hiding in plain sight?

“What about much smaller species of animals and plants, or under-surveyed taxonomic groups?” he said. “We have very little doubt that so much more is still to be found in the Hajar Mountains.”