Plight of the crab plover highlighted by study in Sharjah
With its contrasting black and white plumage and thin, long legs, the crab plover is a favourite for local bird watchers and a must-see for many visiting from abroad.
Populations were thought to be healthy, but experts at a workshop in Sharjah this week believe that may be changing.
Prominent ornithologists from the region assessed the conservation status of 380 species of birds breeding in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Syria as part of the 14th Conservation Workshop for the Biodiversity of Arabia, which was hosted by Sharjah's Environment and Protected Areas Authority between February 3 and 6.
The scientists discussed species' geographic range, population status, habitat, ecology and other factors before assigning to each a category as outlined by the Red List of Threatened Species, a global database by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Red List organises species in seven categories, based on the threats they face, from "least concern", which normally applies to plants and animals that are widespread and abundant, to "extinct".
Currently, the crab plover is listed in the category of least concern globally. The assessment applies to populations in all countries in its range in the Arabian Peninsula, South-East Asia and parts of Africa.
However, under the regional assessment in Sharjah this week, it was suggested the species was now of "near-threatened" status.
This means a species faces risk of extinction in the wild, or may do so in the near future.
The local crab plover population was estimated at fewer than 8,000 adults, said Joseph Taylor, a specialist with BirdLife International, the official Red List authority for birds.
"Egg collection, predation by cats and rats and coastal development were identified as the main threats," he said.
The bird breeds on off-shore islands, building nests by digging burrows in the sand. It winters in mangrove forests where adjacent mudflats offer ample food.
The findings of the workshop were described as preliminary and will be published later in the year after being reviewed.
"We will need to corroborate a lot of numbers and get extra data that we do not have access to here," said Mr Taylor.
Paul Vercammen, operations manager of Sharjah's Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, where the workshop was held, said the focus on birds followed regional assessments in 2011 and last year on the conservation of carnivores and reptiles.
He said the example of the crab plover showed that having regional Red List assessments was an important addition to global assessments.