x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rare wildcat snapped prowling around wadi

Scientists from the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature managed to capture on film a Gordon's wildcat in Fujairah's Wadi Wurayah.

Gordon's Wildcat.
Gordon's Wildcat.

Catching a glimpse of the endangered Gordon's wildcat is a special occasion. The animal is extremely shy and prefers to hunt at night. In addition, the wildcat has retreated into remote locations as the development of farms, roads and towns has squeezed it out of its natural habitat of open, sandy areas and gravel plains. So it was no small achievement when, in June, scientists from the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF) managed to snap a rare picture of a Gordon's wildcat, also known by the Latin Felis silvestris lybica, in a remote location in Wadi Wurayah, in Fujairah.

"The picture was taken far inside the mountain," said Moaz Sawaf, a wildlife expert with EWS-WWF. "The nearest farm is a four-hour walk away." The remoteness of the location, he said, was a hopeful sign for the species' future the preservation of its genes. "The Gordon's wildcat can easily breed with feral and domestic cats," Mr Sawaf said, adding that it was becoming difficult to find pure-bred varieties of the animal in the wild.

The snapshot of a Gordon's wildcat was taken at a camera trap that used infrared triggers and motion sensors. The camera's shutter is triggered when sensors detect a moving, warm-blooded object. Until recently, the conservationists used five camera traps for their studies in Wadi Wurayah, which was declared a protected area last spring. However, three of the devices, costing US$750 (Dh2,800) each, were stolen six months ago, said Mr Sawaf.

"We cannot put the cameras anywhere," he said. "We need to put them where the animals go. But hunters also know these locations." He suspects the devices were stolen by people who opposed his team's efforts to protect wildlife in the wadi. Wadi Wurayah is a 169-square-kilometre area between Masafi, Khor Fakkan and Bidiyah, in Fujairah, and is the country's first protected mountain area. The Gordon's wildcat is one of 12 species of rare mammals known to live there. The animal is native to Europe, the western part of Asia and Africa.

It is usually grey-brown, with black stripes on its back and tail, although the colour can vary. It weighs up to 8kg, and feeds on insects, birds and small rodents. Mr Sawaf suggested that photographic proof of a rare animal living in a protected mountain area should encourage the country to establish more such areas. "If the Government takes into consideration establishing more protected areas, the prospects will improve for this animal's populations in the wild," he said.

The public could do its part, too, he said. "It is important that people who go for camping or picnics do not litter. The rubbish they leave behind often contains food remains with tin foil and plastic wrapping. Animals eat these and can choke to death." @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae