Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Rarely sighted fox species photographed in RAK mountains

The nocturnal Blanford's fox is the second smallest in existence and uses its ears to emit heat to keep it cool.
A Blanford’s fox investigates a motion-triggered camera set up as part of RAK Wildlife Project’s three-year research in the mountains of the emirate. Courtesy Dr Anne-Lise Chaber
A Blanford’s fox investigates a motion-triggered camera set up as part of RAK Wildlife Project’s three-year research in the mountains of the emirate. Courtesy Dr Anne-Lise Chaber

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A shy yet curious fox species has, for the first time in the UAE, been photographed in the mountains by scientists researching biodiversity in the Northern Emirates.

Captured using motion-detection photo technology set up by Dr Anne-Lise Chaber, head of the RAK Wildlife Project, this particular specimen of Blanford’s fox not only triggered the camera, but went in for a closer look.

“They are very curious animals. If they see something that is new to them in their environment they will come and have a look at it, so the picture is actually of the fox having a look at the camera,” Dr Chaber said.

The find is exciting because little is known about the fox and its existence in the Arabian Gulf.

“Now we are trying to assess the populations of different animals. The next step with mammals is to start putting satellite collars on the animals,” she said.

The Wildlife Project’s first step will be to ascertain the population sizes of species of mammals, reptiles and insects found in RAK’s Hajar Mountains.

The group’s participants have been in the field since last September and will continue to conduct research over the next three years.

Tracking animals through satellite is an integral part of establishing the habitat range for certain species and creating data that is useful to policymakers who seek to conserve wildlife populations.

By knowing the areas that certain species inhabit, countries and regions can establish protected areas that make hunting of any sort illegal – an effective way of bolstering population growth in the wild.

“When we start to know how far it will go, it is very important for their behaviour and to know how much land they need, to know how not to disturb the habitat of the animals,” Dr Chaber said.

Dr Brigitte Howarth, of the College of Sustainability Sciences and Humanities at Zayed University, is part of the team as the expert on anthropoids.

“The region is quite majestic and contains a lot of biodiversity that is mostly unknown, but habitats are being destroyed and the mountains are the last frontier,” she said.

Studying insects and other organisms found in the microhabitats of the mountains would allow people to protect not only the specific species but also the entire ecosystem, of which humans are a part, said Dr Howarth.

“For once we won’t only get information about species, but also more information about their ecology habitat niches, and to find out if they might be keystone species,” she said.

Keystone species are animals that are vital in maintaining the status quo within an ecosystem, to the extent that their extinction would trigger population collapses among several species.

However, aside from doing research and conducting conservation efforts, Dr Howarth said that raising awareness about the dangers that wildlife species were experiencing was important. “In any kind of conservation initiative the only way forward is to talk to stakeholders. [It is] not only scientists who are interested, but also the local community,” Dr Howarth said.

Investment in animal conservation could help the livelihoods of local residents, be it in livestock or otherwise, she said.

The project’s scientists aim to create a biodiversity survey so that members of the community can better understand RAK’s ecosystem.

Work began on the project last September and team members plan to do field work on reptiles as the third and final leg before analysing data next month.

The project is fully funded by RAKBank.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae

Updated: March 27, 2015 04:00 AM

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