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‘Save the Dhubs’ project launched

By a staff reporter / 4 June 2005

ABU DHABI — The Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (Erwda) has launched a major wildlife rescue operation on the site of the planned second runway for Abu Dhabi’s International Airport.

The operation is aimed at saving around 200 spiny-tailed agamids (Uromastyx microlepis aegyptia), or dhubs, that live on the site, according to the Supervision Committee for the Expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport, Scadia. The project is being carried out in association with Erwda.

“This is the first time ever that a translocation programme has been undertaken for an indigenous species in the UAE prior to the beginning of a development project, to ensure that the endangered wildlife are rescued,” says Khalifa Al Mazrouei, Chairman of Scadia.

The dhub, a lizard that can grow up to 85cm long and that eats desert vegetation, can be found in inter-dunal plains and sandstone outcrops throughout much of Abu Dhabi, but its numbers are believed to be under threat because of the development of many areas in which it lives, particularly near Abu Dhabi. It is protected by law in the UAE, and trade in the species is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (Cites).

“We are committed to contributing to the conservation and protection of our natural heritage,” the Scadia chairman added.

The ‘Save the Dhubs’ project was welcomed by Erwda Secretary-General Majid Al Mansouri.

“The Erwda has identified this species as being of special concern, and we are fully behind this initiative. Besides being a first of its kind for the UAE, this is also the first time anywhere that a trapping and re-location programme for dhubs has been attempted. With Scadia’s help, we hope to learn a lot that can be of long-term help in planning for the conservation of this important species in the Emirates,” he said.

The presence of a large population of dhubs on the new airport site, perhaps over 200 individuals, was identified during environmental baseline studies carried out for Scadia, as part of its commitment to identifying and conserving aspects of the flora, fauna and cultural heritage on the site.

Following their discovery, during a survey carried out for Scadia by environmental consultants URS, Scadia contacted Erwda to seek advice on what could be done to save the dhubs.

Working in association with Erwda’s Terrestrial Environment Research Centre (Terc) and Dr Drew Gardner, Professor of Biology at Zayed University and a leading expert on the reptiles of the UAE and Oman, a plan was then drawn up to trap a small selection of the dhubs for release into suitable habitat south-west of Abu Dhabi. This pilot programme, involving 19 animals, yielded good results, and Scadia then arranged for a full programme of trapping the animals to be launched.

Over 50 people turned out over the weekend to participate in the trapping programme. Among those taking part were students from Zayed University, members of several non-governmental organisations, including the Environment Friends Society, the Emirates Heritage Club and the Emirates Natural History Groups, from both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

The trapped animals were handed over to a team from Sharjah’s Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife (BCEAW), which will provide the dhubs with a temporary home until preparations have been made to release them back into suitable desert locations in protected areas of Abu Dhabi. The release programme is being designed to meet the international standards set by the Reintroduction Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Scadia is also backing another heritage project at the airport expansion site. Being undertaken by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (Adias), this involves the excavation of an archaeological site that will be affected by the expansion plan.
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