x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

Universities to study wildlife at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

The reserve, a few minutes drive from Dubai is home to herds of wild oryx and gazelle, Arabian red fox and lappet-faced vultures. Experts from PSAD and Malaga University in Spain will carry out studies into the desert ecosystem.

The Paris Sorbonne will work with the Dubai wildlife reserve to safeguard animals such as the Arabian oryx. Victor Besa for The National
The Paris Sorbonne will work with the Dubai wildlife reserve to safeguard animals such as the Arabian oryx. Victor Besa for The National

DUBAI // The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve will work with international universities, including Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, to study the animals that call the 22,500 hectare protected area home.

The reserve, a short drive from Dubai, is home to herds of wild oryx and gazelle, Arabian red fox and lappet-faced vultures. Experts from Abu Dhabi and Malaga University in Spain will carry out studies into the desert ecosystem.

“We’ve been doing research for several years but see the reserve as an opportunity for scientific studies and to give the local students the chance to study the natural environment,” said Greg Simkins, conservation manager at the reserve.

“We hope to be able to provide facilities for masters and PhD students,” he said.

Tamer Khafaga, conservation and planning officer at the reserve, said there are gaps in research which students from the universities can help to fill.

“We are missing experts in specific species and we lack specialists in locally occurring desert fungi, many areas which have never been studied here before,” he said.

Last year, a scientist from South Africa found new species of pollenating bees and wasps in the reserve, the kind of research conservationists would like to see more of.

“From our perspective, we monitor populations but there are a lot of life studies that need to be done; how animals survive, what strategies they have for survival, distances these animals travel,” said Mr Simkins.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the animals here. Over the years we’ve learnt a lot about the desert but we’d like to expand that to the wider ecosystem.”

Dr Kosmas Pavlopoulos, from Paris Sorbonne’s department of geography and planning and coordinator of the masters of environment; dynamics of territories and societies, said: “DDCR is one of the biggest protected areas in UAE which ensures the future of the region’s desert habitats and bio-diversity managed according to sound scientific ecological principles.”

He said that the university would like to collaborate with the reserve in research projects in arid ecosystems, biodiversity and landscape evolution, to use the site for monitoring and conservation of arid and hyper arid environments, and to make the reserve an educational and internship platform for the master and bachelor students.

While the university has agreements in place with agencies in Abu Dhabi, where it is based, Dr Pavlopoulos said the reserve is a “bridge between the western region and Abu Dhabi and the northeastern natural reserves and protected areas”.

When the reserve opened 15 years ago a herd of 70 wild oryx were introduced. That number has now swelled to 450, living alongside 150 sand gazelle, up from 25, and up to 300 Arabian gazelle from an original 100.

Other species that have increased in number, although they are not so easily counted, include the Arabian red fox and the Lappet-faced vulture.

The other big improvement has been safety for visitors, with designated camping areas and tracks created while the introduction of Dh500 fines for littering, driving off-routes and speeding helped to ensure the area was clean and calm.

mswan@thenational.ae