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Editorial Inter Emirates Weekend 2002

I hope you all enjoyed the Inter-Emirates Weekend and the hospitality of the Mafraq Hotel. I would like to thank both the ENHG Committee and all those people who volunteered to lead trips, set up displays, man ( and women!) the desks and help in a million other ways. You all know who you are, thank you.

I always think that an event like this passes too quickly. I never had time to hunt for flowers, compete in the quizzes or trap insects, all of which I badly wanted to do. I also didn't have time to chat with all the people I wanted to, about their interests in natural history. However, I did find time to have a dance in the disco! I suppose there is always next year, to try and complete all the things I wanted to do this year! After all, it is an annual event!

Congratulations to our two award winners this year. Peter Cunningham and Ibrihim Zakhour. Both have been outstanding in their respective areas and the awards were well deserved.

This issue of Focus is devoted to member's experiences over the weekend. We go Stargazing, we visit Al Wathba Lake, we go on a boat trip and we revisit Futaisi Island. No one member could have done every activity, so if you missed something you would like to have been part of, never mind, just read about it instead! We also have the answers to the snake quiz with pictures. We hope that this becomes a reference source for you when you are in the field.

One last plea, we are always looking for articles for Focus. If you would like to tell us about your favorite place in the UAE, your special interest, or something that has just grabbed your imagination and will be of interest to other members, please contact us. You just might see your name in print!

Hope everyone has a lovely month and gets in the field as much as possible, as summer is just around the corner.

Steve James (Chairman of ENHG).

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Al Wathba Lake

On 11th April as part of the Inter-Emirates Weekend, Simon Aspinall and myself co-lead a foray to this important wetland reserve. Thirty-six people had signed up for the trip, so we split in to two groups of eighteen each. We covered the same area but in reverse order.

Between the parties over fifty species of birds were seen. Highlights included: Greater Flamingoes at point blank range; a good selection of ducks, including Wigeon , Teal, Pintail, Garganey and Shoveler. A pair of Mallards had ducklings, confirming breeding for the site. Several Marsh Harriers gave excellent views, cruising at eye level just over the reed beds.

Waders were both plentiful and in good variety: a lone Avocet probably stole the show, but summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks came a close second. Other waders included Black-tailed Godwit; Grey Plover; displaying Little Ringed Plovers; both Little and Temminck's Stints; quite a few Curlew Sandpipers, some just attaining their nice summer plumage; two Pintail Snipe (along with several Common Snipe); Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Greenshank and Turnstone.

A few Whiskered Terns hawked for insects over the marsh and a complete surprise, a lovely male European Nightjar flushed from under a bush in broad daylight, enabling all to get good flight views of this nocturnal species. A pair of Little Green Bee-eaters were widely admired and gave all excellent views. Black-crowned Finch Larks were displaying in the sand dunes, while on the muddy areas Red throated Pipit and Citrine Wagtail proved popular.

All in all, this was an excellent introduction to the water birds found at the lake and thanks must go to ERWDA for making such an enjoyable visit possible.

A few of us carried on to the fodder fields at Al Wathba Camel Track. Great views of Pallid Harrier were had by all and a Collared Pratincole and four male Ortolan Buntings didn't want to fly in the ever increasing wind. As darkness approached, we made our way back to the Mafraq Hotel.

Steve James

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Annual General Meeting of the ENHG 7th May

Members please note that the ENHG is formally asking for nominations and resolutions for this meeting. Please send to Steve James at stephen.james@zu.ac.ae

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Inter Emirates Weekend Snake Competition: The Answers!

The snake quiz at the Inter-Emirates Weekend involved identifying 12 species of local snakes. There were quite a few entrants, and many queries as to the correct answers. So here they are! These 12 species are amongst the more commonly seen species of the 14 species of terrestrial snakes and up to 9 species of sea snakes recorded in the UAE and Gulf waters. The other land snakes are the Flowerpot Snake and the Hooked Thread Snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus and Leptotyphlops macrorhynchus, both small and worm-like) and Hardwicke's Racer (Coluber ventromaculatus). There have been no confirmed records of the Cat Snake in UAE territory, though as it is found in northern Oman and in the Musandam region, it must surely also be found in the intervening mountains and gravel plains. ENHG members look out for it.

The quiz winners were jointly Waseela and Nasreen Adam, who scored 7 correct identifications. Well done them!

Here are the answers (all photographs by Drew Gardner)

  1. Coluber rhodorachis Wadi Racer or Desert Racer. Family Colubridae. This is the well marked form which has bands across the anterior half of the body (posterior plane brown - as you can see in one of the coils). Other individuals are unmarked all over, though the whitish marks in front of and behind the eye are always there. Specimen from Wadi al Abyad, Oman. No venom or fangs.
  2. Malpolon moilensis Hooded Malpolon, False cobra, or Moila snake. Family Colubridae. A diurnal snake which is rear-fanged. Toxicity of venom unknown. Has the ability to spread a 'hood' as a threat. Specimen from Wadi Andam, Central Oman.
  3. Telescopus dhara Cat snake Family Colubridae. Nocturnal rear-fanged snake. This is unmarked individual. Others are marked with a pattern of regular blotches. Both forms tend to be pinkish brown. Note the large eyes with vertical cat-like pupil. Specimen from Jiddat al Sahasa, 1450 m in Musandam.
  4. Spalerosophis diadema Diadem snake. Family Colubridae. No fangs or venom. A large diurnal snake well known for feeding on rats.
  5. Psammophis schokari Schokari Sand Racer. Family Colubridae. Diurnal, rear-fanged snake. Sand racers are long and thin, and very fast moving! Variable marking. Some individuals have distinct longitudinal stripes all down the body. Others like here (from Seeb, Oman) have a stripe only through the eye on the sides of the head.
  6. Lytorhynchus diadema Awl-headed or Leaf-nosed snake. Family Colubridae. No venom or fangs. A small snake which lives on sand, nocturnal or crepuscular. Specimen from near Izki, Oman.
  7. Eryx jayakari Jayakar's sand boa. Family Boidae. Harmless burrowing snake of sandy areas. The skin has a high gloss and the snout is very streamlined, both adaptations to reduce drag while moving through sand. This specimen is from near Suwaiq on the Batinah, Oman.
  8. Cerastes gasperettii Arabian Horned Viper. Family Viperidae. Dangerous venomous snake from sandy habitats. Not all individuals have the 'horns'. Hisses by rasping the keeled lateral scales together. Individual from Dhofar interior, Oman.
  9. Pseudocerastes persicus False horned viper Family Viperidae. Dangerous venomous snake from the mountains. Always has 'horns', each of which is composed of many scales. Specimen from above Wakan at 1800 m, Jebel Akhdar. Hisses by inflating and deflating body.
  10. Echis carinatus sochureki Sind saw-scaled viper. Family Viperidae. Dangerous species. Nocturnal. Lives in sandy and sandy gravel habitats, though not usually in soft dunes. An arrow shaped mark on the oval head (partly obscured by sand in this photo). Specimen from Ras Ghantoot, UAE. Warning hiss by rasping keeled lateral scales. This species tends to be aggressive and bad-tempered. The photo shows its typical defensive pose. From this position it produces its warning 'hiss' and can strike forward with lightning speed.
  11. Echis coloratus Burton's saw-scaled viper, carpet viper. Family Viperidae. Dangerous species. Nocturnal. Lives in rocky areas, usually in mountains. The head is much wider behind the eyes and generally unmarked or sparsely marked on top compared to Echis carinatus. Warning hiss by rasping keeled lateral scales. Specimen from Jebel Lahqin, near Dank, Oman.
  12. Pelamis platurus Yellow bellied sea snake. Family Hydrophiidae. Exclusively marine, but sometimes washed up on beaches, especially when there are strong onshore winds. Dangerously venomous. Specimen from Seeb, Oman

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Stargazing Outings

The Inter-Emirates weekend coincided with some rare cloudy weather here in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, two groups of stargazers tried their luck on Thursday evening and early Friday morning.

On Thursday evening, many of the brightest objects in the sky were clouded over, and we were denied views of Venus, Mars and Saturn. However, we had occasional views of Jupiter, almost directly overhead shortly after sunset. The constellations of Canis Major and Orion were visible for most of the evening, as were Gemini and parts of Ursa Major. Through the telescope, Jupiter resolved to a nice round ball, but conditions were too hazy to pick out any of Jupiter's moons.

Viewing was better on Friday morning, but not in the Northeastern sky where Comet Ikeya-Zhang would have been visible. Instead, we got a good view of some of the summer constellations such as Scorpio, Cygnus, Aquila and Lyra. We also got flashed at -6 magnitude by the Iridium 29 satellite at exactly 4:44:21 a.m., an event well spotted by Andrew Hornsby. We made it back to the hotel in plenty of time for breakfast and the full schedule of Friday's events.

Cloudy skies are rarely encountered in Abu Dhabi, which means that most of us will have the chance to look at the sky more through the Spring. Watch for the following. First, there are now four planets clearly visible in the Western sky, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter (from the horizon up). These four planets are joined by the crescent moon in the early part of each lunar month, so look at the Western sky on the first or second day of each Islamic month. In late April, the four planets will be joined by a fifth planet, Mercury, appearing in the Western sky after sunset below Venus. The five planets will be grouped even more closely together in May. On the evening of May 13, look for the new crescent moon below Mercury, followed by Saturn, Mars, Venus and Jupiter. Mercury disappears below the horizon in late May. Observers here on Earth will have to wait several hundred years for the five planets that were known to the ancients to line up again so conveniently.

Likewise, Comet Ikeya-Zhang will not reappear for another 400 years, so the time to see it is now. It is approximately a fourth magnitude object visible now in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Look for the W of Cassiopeia in the Northeast morning sky approximately one hour before sunrise, then look slightly right and slightly up to see the blurry comet. Binoculars will help distinguish the comet from other objects nearby. To follow the movements of the planets and other objects online, consult the Sky and Telescope home page at . Among other features, Sky and Telescope offers an interactive sky chart, which you can use after inputting your latitude and longitude. For example, the latitude and longitude for the Musalla Al-Eid parking lot where we normally meet for ENHG outings is:

24° 27' 25.119" Lat.
54° 22' 38.572" Lon.

For tracking comets, Sky and Telescope can be supplemented by consulting . Heavens above also offers a satellite tracking program, which alerts you to opportunities to view the ISS, the Iridium satellites, and other manmade objects in the sky. To observe the Iridium "flashes," as we did on Friday morning, you need to input fairly precise longitude and latitude coordinates. I have found the satellite programs to be quite accurate in predicting visibility of satellites even in the middle of light-polluted Abu Dhabi.

A problem always arises when someone gives you a location using the UTM grid and you need to convert into latitude and longitude to use the interactive sky chart or a satellite tracking program. To make these conversions, you can access a UTM conversion applet at http://www.swcp.com/csar/UTMConverter.shtml.

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Hands-on Desert field trip

First of all, much thanks to all those eager ENHG members who helped to set out and collect the traps. We trust that you all had an enjoyable experience helping to survey the wildlife near Sweihan, Abu Dhabi Emirate.

For those of you who could not make it, Chris Drew and myself essentially co-opted the services of unwitting ENHG volunteers to place a series of 8 small mammal traps out along eight separate transects at intervals of 50metres. So they had a fair bit of walking to do carrying traps!

The results though were well worth it. The Friday morning desert trip was very successful. We caught six Cheesmans gerbils (including two in one trap), a sand boa (Eryx jayakari), 4 species of lizard (Phyrnocephalus arabicus,acanthodactylus schmitti, mesalina adramitana, microlepis aegyptius), plus several invertebrates. We saw some mountain gazelles and a desert hare and a blue rock thrush as well as the usual assortment of desert birds. Found some pottery shards and ostrich shell jewelry too.

Not bad for one trip!

Richard Perry

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Futaisi Island - revisited

Ninety-two people booked on this excursion as part of the Inter-Emirates Weekend. This naturally gave both Dick Hornby and myself slight logistical migraine! However, we decided to split this throng in to two, albeit large groups: Dick arriving on the island early, and covering the area to the south of the landing point. I arrived an hour later and covered the more northerly areas.

Both groups were informed about the archaeology that is to be found here and the water cisterns were a very popular photographic shoot! Sand Gazelles were easily seen and great views were obtained of this very uncommon mammal. The earlier group actually found a young calf under a bush, which rushed off on wobbly legs! Spiny-tailed Lizards were also quite easy to see and one or two large specimens were seen, but proved more difficult to photograph!

An excellent variety of birds were recorded: a few Greater Flamingoes were wading in the shallows; both colour morphs of Western Reef Heron were on view; Ospreys were nearly always in attendance and fabulous views were had of two recently fledged birds, calling and flying very close to the group. The large nest on top of a golfing shelter gave rise to comments! As did a huge nest in the mangroves, which must have been on-going for generations, as it was at least three meters high! A wide selection of wading birds, most attaining summer plumage and on their northward migration to far flung places like arctic Russia and even Tibet were noted. 110 Lesser Sand Plovers; 28 Grey Plovers; 14 Sanderling; 5 Terek Sandpiper and 360 Bar-tailed Godwits all were refueling before their long journeys. But not all species recorded were long distance migrants: 82 delightful Crab Plovers were a new species for many, and we were treated to them flying around us and calling, an unforgettable sight.

Land birds were in quite good numbers and most people obtained excellent views of several Rock Thrushes, four species of migrating Wheatears and beautifully marked male Redstarts. A chosen few had good views of an elusive Rufous Bush Chat, which did its best to be invisible!

Most members made their way to the clubhouse and enjoyed a very nice buffet lunch around the pool and swapped stories of their morning excursion. Food and company were both good. However, the highlight for me was watching all the Bridled and White-cheeked Terns swirling around the small offshore islands as dusk settled. I think most, if not all members had a very enjoyable day, seeing a wide variety of uncommonly encountered species and having a nice, comfortable social time as well. I am sure it won't be long before we return.

Steve James

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Inter-Emirates Experience (11-12 April 2002)

This year's Inter-Emirates weekend was our first trip with the group, even though we had joined months ago. Booking our field trips in advance, we headed of to Mafraq Hotel for what turned out to be a really enjoyable weekend. On getting to the hotel, we met up with familiar faces and were quickly ushered into the Baniyas Room to set-up the video microscope display.

My two girls in the meanwhile met an interesting lady (Molly McQuarrie) with an equally interesting collection on display. Whilst they were being entertained and inundating her with their questions, Mahomed and I busied ourselves with the task of setting up the display table. Some pond water from Al-Wathba Lake had a few nice creepy crawlies to keep observers busy. Mosquito larvae, nematodes and a few invertebrates were to be seen on a screen. In addition Elodea leaves were wet mounted to show plant cells with large amounts of chloroplasts. The rest of the displays were already set up including a bird and a snake quiz but that would have to wait until later.

At 3:00pm we waited at the reception for our first trip, which was the boat trip around the Western Lagoon. As we are from Abu Dhabi we were asked to lead the group to the meeting point off 19th Street where Martyn waited for us. Not having a sign on my vehicle indicating which group we were and where we were heading, we ended up having a few more occupants than we originally intended. As it was too late for them to join the mammal-trapping group, we squeezed in, to create some space on the boat. It turned out to be a lovely afternoon as we sped around the island with Martyn giving us commentary about the history of the Abu Dhabi islands and some notes about the huge palaces that over-looked waterfront. We were able to clearly see the tallest flag in the world from where we were and it looked a spectacular sight from the boat flapping the wind.

Martyn stopped the boat to give us a view of a school of humpback dolphins that had arrived to greet us. No less than 15 of these beautiful creatures were seen frolicking about around the boat giving us perfect opportunities to photograph these magnificent creatures. So with cameras clicking and videotapes recording, we were to place into our memory this fantastic moment. We left the site as the wind began to start up and stopped over at one of the islands. We walked through the sand carefully as we were hoping to spot some bird eggs, which are laid on the soil surface. These mottled brown eggs are well camouflaged but can easily be trampled on by non-discerning pedestrians. In a few moments we spotted a few eggs and the children were now aware of what to avoid stepping on during the rest of our walk. Martyn pointed out quite a few bird species, waders (the names of which escape me) and a few gulls. After picking a bag full of shells we got back onto the boat to continue or adventure. We managed to see a fox, and a large variety of birds feeding.

We got back to Mafraq wet, sandy and rather tired after an exhilarating afternoon, in time for the scrumptious barbeque that awaited. It was time to meet and greet. As luck would have it we happened to sit at the same table as Ibrahim from Al-Ain who was to receive the prestigious ENHG award. Congratulations were in order! After refueling our energies with a good food, and a good night's rest, we were ready to face the challenges of the desert mammal trapping trip we had booked to go on Friday.

At 08:30am sharp Chris Drew came around and asked an important question. "Are you willing to drive over 120km on tarred roads and if have you driven in the desert before?" Mahomed nodded in the affirmative and we set off on a trail blazing experience. We got to Sweihan and to the site very easily, with some guided desert driving. On site Chris explained to us the location of the traps and the order in which we were to collect them. The girls scampered off to collect our 8 traps; disappointingly we were only able to retrieve empty traps. The others came back with some interesting finds: Jayakar's Sand boa (Eryx jayakari), Schmidt's fringe toed lizard (Acanthodactylus schmidti), Hadramaut sand lizard (Mesalina adramitana) and an Arabian toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus) and of course what was meant to be trapped, Cheesman's gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani). Drew Gardner gave us interesting comments regarding the reptiles and their various burrowing styles, while Chris chatted to us about the gerbils. The children had a wonderful time stroking the sand boa as Drew was holding it.

Driving away from the site we spotted a whole lot more. A white spiny tailed lizard was out for a morning walk. Chris Drew cautiously managed to catch the creature and so the rest of us were able to have a good look. Drew Gardner needed to count spines on the underside of the tail to verify the species as Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis. After spending some time holding and looking at the lizard, it was released and we moved on. The next interesting sight was that of some Mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella cora) grazing. We managed to catch a glimpse of them, but by the time we got to where they were all of them had disappeared. In addition, we managed to see a Cape hare (Lepus capensis jeffreyi), hoopoe lark, black crowned finch lark and brown-necked raven. Chris then drove on towards three solitary Ghaf trees (Prosopis cineraria). Brigitte being the insect expert gave us a good overview of her finds which included camel mites, praying mantis and a solitary bee.

Driving on, we suddenly "lost" part of the team, so we waited on an inter-dune gravel surface for them to catch up. Turns out that Drew Gardner was to make an amazing discovery of a possible archaeological site. He found ostrich shell beads, small flint tools, and pottery shards on a previous inter-dune gravel surface. Although we missed the location, we marveled at what he had to show us. We drove through some amazing dunes and headed back to the hotel. After checking out at 4:00pm the girls and I went back into Baniyas Room to see the displays and to do the snake and bird quiz which was indeed a team effort.

We left Mafaq at about 6:00pm after thoroughly enjoying the get-away. Many thanks to ENHG for all their efforts.

Kathija Adam

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Latest Sightings!

On a recent foray to the area of coastal desert just south of Jebel Ali, it was interesting to find spoor (footmarks) of Mountain Gazelle. When I first arrived in the UAE in 1992, I sometimes saw gazelles in this area. But as the area became more and more developed, I thought this isolated population of gazelles would become extinct. I am very happy to be proved wrong! They are still there! Other mammals in the area are, Red Fox and Arabian Hare, both of which seem to be quite common. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Hoopoe Lark and Black-crowned Finch Lark are also well distributed throughout.

Peter Rothfells has just informed me of a Dugong, swimming around his boat in the main channel, just off Abu Dhabi Island. He was both surprised and extremely pleased to record it.

At an undisclosed location, close to Abu Dhabi, there are good numbers of Green Turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs at the moment. May they have a successful breeding season.

Steve James

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Twitch It Guide

This short article is a brief round up of the most important ornithological activity in March. It is based upon Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer's Twitcher's Guide, which may be found on the Internet or received by e-mail.

March is an excellent month for bird migration and unusual sightings. The wintering Hume's Yellow Browed Warbler and Goldfinch were still present in Abu Dhabi for most of the month. A visit to Al Wathba Fodder Fields on 8th produced 3 Pallid and 3 Montagu's Harriers; a fine Long-legged Buzzard; Spotted Eagle and a male Merlin, hunting at dawn. A Short-eared Owl was also notable. 64 Pacific Golden Plovers were in the fields, some just starting to attain their fine summer plumage. Over 400 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse coming in to drink were a fine sight. 70 Short-toed and over 90 Lesser Short-toed Larks gave excellent views. 4 Richard's Pipits and a Blyth's Pipit were also recorded. 12 Bluethroats flushed from the bushy edges of the fields, included at least one of the White-spotted race. Rock Thrush, Rufous Bush Chat and 4 Rose-coloured Starlings were also seen. On nearby Al Wathba Lake 41 European Shelducks were present.

On 14th March 2 Masked Shrikes and a Red-breasted Flycatcher were in Mushrif Palace Gardens. On 21st the visit to Al Wathba Fodder Fields produced 6 Marsh Harriers and 3 Pallid Harriers. A single Corn Bunting was a linger from the wintering population.

The next day the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was again seen at the Abu Dhabi Racecourse, other good species nearby included a Wryneck; 3 Tree Pipits and a late Song Thrush. In the Al Wathba Wood an immature male Merlin was briefly seen.

Pied Wheatears started to come through in the next few days, including some of the vittata race and a Black-eared Wheatear was at the Health & Fitness Club.

On 26th, a fine male Semi-collared Flycatcher was in Mushrif Palace Gardens, along with both Wryneck and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Oriental Skylark and Blyth's Pipit were on the Al Wathba Fodder Fields. A quick trip to Futaisi Island on 27th produced White-throated Robin and Rock Thrush, while on the same day a European Roller and 5 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were at the Health & Fitness Club.

A thorough examination of a few Abu Dhabi city sites on 28th revealed: 2 White-throated Robins; 2 Black Redstarts; 5 Redstarts; Upcher's Warbler; 3 Blackcaps and a Yellow-throated Sparrow.

The next day there were plenty of fresh arrivals at the fodder fields: 4 Pale Martin; 1 Brown-throated Martin; Cinereous Bunting; Pale Rock Sparrow; Grasshopper Warbler and Rock Thrush.

Why don't you join us?

Steve James

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Lectures

Date Topic Presenter
2nd April Fossils Val Chalmers
16th April Deception in Insects Brigitte Howarth
7th May Fauna & Flora Survey of Umm al Zummoul Dr. Chris Drew

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Committee members

Steve James (Chairman)
Simon Aspinall (Deputy Chairman)
Wafa Morda (Secretary)
Hazim al Chalabi (Membership Secretary)
Peter Hellyer (editor of Tribulus)
Charles Laubach (Member at large)
Arleen Edwards (Sales)
Andrew Twyman (Sales)
Richard Perry (Member)
Arun Kumar (Treasurer)
Dick Hornby (Member at large)
Ingrid Barcelo
Allestree Fisher

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Corporate Sponsors of the ENHG 2002

The following companies are supporting the ENHG's conservation efforts in the region. Each company has made a commitment, each has made a difference and the environment thanks them all. We hope you, as ENHG members will in turn support these companies whenever you can.

Al Fahim Group
Al Sayegh Richards Butler
Emirates Holdings
GAMCO
Hyder Consulting Middle East Limited
Jashanmal National Company
Mohammed Bin Masaood & Sons
Nama Development Enterprises
National Bank of Abu Dhabi
Ready Mix Abu Dhabi Limited
Simmons & Simmons
Tabreed
Trowers & Hamlins
Union National Bank
WESCO

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Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan