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
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.
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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
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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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Spalerosophis diadema Diadem snake. Family Colubridae. No
fangs or venom. A large diurnal snake well known for feeding on rats.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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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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
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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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
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
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 &
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?
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||Deception in Insects
||Fauna & Flora Survey of Umm al Zummoul
||Dr. Chris Drew
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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)
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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
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
Trowers & Hamlins
Union National Bank
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