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Gazelle August 2002

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Natural History Awards

Inter-Emirates Weekend was the occasion for presentation of the ENHG's annual natural history awards. The Sheikh Mubarak Award, which honors contributions by a professional to the understanding of UAE natural history, went to Peter Cunningham, a DNHG member whose information and reports on diverse natural history topics have frequently appeared in the Gazelle, in Tribulus, and in a number of professional publications. The Bish Brown Award, which honors non-professionals for similar achievements, went to Ibrahim Zakhour of Al-Ain, the popular, long-time trip leader of the ENHG in Al-Ain. The DNHG congratulates these deserving award winners.

Thanks to Gary Feulner for this information

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RAK Museum Website

The website of the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah, www.RAKmuseum.gov.ae, is now online, and is recommended to anyone interested in UAE archeology, history, culture, jewelry, handicrafts etc. The site is admirably straightforward, informative and easy to use. Subject areas are well indexed and the site features both background information and illustrations and descriptions of specific items in the museum's collection. The site has been prepared under the supervision of RAK museum's resident archeologist Christian Velde, who welcomes comments. The information and exhibitions currently available on the site will be further expanded when Christian returns in October.

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Fish Website Recommended

For anyone interested in fish identification – or in website design -- Phil Iddison of Al-Ain, a former DNHG speaker, has written to extol the virtues of an excellent website: www.fishbase.org/home.htm. Says Phil, "[I]t is worth exploring as an example of just how good a site can be in terms of offering solid information in a well organized manner." Phil adds (too pessimistically, we hope) that this is perhaps "only possible with someone like FAO as sponsor."

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UAE Archeology Website

Members interested in local and regional archeology may want to visit the website of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archeological Survey (ADIAS) at www.adias-uae.com. The site contains lots of information not readily accessible elsewhere.

And…

Members interested to follow up on developments in Abu Dhabi archaeology, following last month's talk by Dan Hull, Resident Archaeologist of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, might like to take a look at the ADIAS website, which can be found at www.adias-uae.com

The site contains latest press releases, a publications list, an archive of ADIAS radiocarbon dating results, a picture gallery and more, as well as links to other sites related to Arabian archaeology. Webmaster for the site is Dr. Mark Beech, who also maintains the UAE Fishes Guide mentioned in last month's Gazelle.

With the annual archaeology season drawing to a close in early May, Dan has now left ADIAS and has returned to the University of York where he plans to pursue doctoral research. He is being replaced in October by Mark Beech, who joins the ADIAS team, including Peter Hellyer and Simon Aspinall. Mark will also join the Tribulus editorial board from the autumn.

Thanks to Peter Hellyer

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Twitchers' Guide Web Address

The correct address to find the weekly UAE Twitchers' Guide is www.uaeinteract.com (the official website of the Ministry of Information and Culture). Just open it up, go to Birds, and the way to the page is clearly identified. Any reports should be sent to me (Peter Hellyer) or to Simon Aspinall. Reports for inclusion in the national database maintained by the Emirates Bird Records Committee should go either to Colin Richardson (editor, UAE monthly report) OR to the EBRC Secretary, David Diskin.

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Camel Milk Available in Dubai

Gail Gordon

Further to Dr. Wernery's talk on camels and the benefits of drinking camel milk, 100% Camel Milk is now on sale at Spinneys. I've bought some and it tastes delicious...I'm probably the last to know it's in the market, but just in case others haven't noticed the small bottles I thought I would let the DNHG group know!

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Inter-Emirates Weekend at Mafraq

Report by Gary Feulner and Valerie Chalmers, with help from Mary Ann Pardoe

The Mafraq Hotel was the base for a program of diverse and out-of-the-ordinary activities at the 2002 Inter-Emirates Weekend in March. The most commonly heard complaint was that there was not time enough to do everything, even though many of the outings were repeated on both Thursday and Friday!

At the hotel itself were a collection of animals of various sorts (including microscopic), a snake photo quiz, a bird quiz, a flower hunt, and insect collection equipment (in use after dark). For night owls, astronomy was an option, and in addition to good views of summer constellations such as Scorpio, Cygnus, Aquila and Lyra, the skywatching group was treated to a flash from the Iridium 29 satellite, on schedule at exactly 04:44:21, spotted by the DNHG's own Andrew Hornsby.

Two desert ecology trips ventured into the desert towards Sweihan. The Friday trip took advantage of the experience of the Thursday afternoon trip and took the easy way in to collect the traps that had been laid. These produced six Cheesman's gerbils (we examined the distinctive white hair on the soles of the feet) plus a sand boa (we viewed its two tiny vestigial legs). Seen "in action" were an Arabian toad-headed agama, a desert race runner, a dhub and its burrow, two gazelle, and a desert hare (glimpsed briefly). A male rock thrush joined the usual compliment of desert birds in the shelter of a couple of ghaf trees. The group even spotted and collected some pottery and ostrich shell jewelry (noting the site) for donation to ADIAS. What trip leader Chris Drew (of ERWDA) still doesn't know is that his departure route, although it was executed without major difficulty, involved trickier sand driving than most people will ever do!

Abu Dhabi's nearshore islands have played a major role in its history and natural history, and boat trips to several areas were part of the itinerary. A Thursday boat trip saw Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and, on land, a fox and tern eggs. Futaisi Island was a popular Friday boat trip destination, with two groups covering different itineraries. One group focused on archeology and made its way slowly across the island to the fort, stopping enroute at a Late Islamic water-collecting cistern in a garden, said toe be the best example in any of the islands. From pottery shards they learned to distinguish ‘chocolate chip’ 18th to 19th Century ware and earlier Julfarware, made in Ra's al-Khaimah. Also examined were oyster shell middens, typical of Abu Dhabi, and a graveyard with graves oriented N-S (very Late Islamic) and a mosque sitting on top.

Wildlife seen along the way included ospreys in the air and, on land, large spiny-tailed lizards (dhubs) and several sand gazelle. Three types of salt bush dominated the vegetation and these were Arthrocnemum macrostachyum, Halocnemum strobilaceum and Halopeplis perfoliata (Glass Beads). Participants rated it a long but enjoyable walk and eventually reached the fort where they took a well-earned rest in the shade. (Trip leader Dick Hornby took a few people off to look for a ‘little creature’ with a tuber-shaped body which pokes its long slimy tongue (less than 1cm long) out of the wet sand.) For birders, a special highlight of the Futaisi Island trip was a 3-metre osprey nest (the product of generations of birds) and an elusive Rufous Bush Chat. All this was followed by a swim and an excellent lunch.

Also for birdwatchers, there were morning and afternoon trips to the Al Wathba fodder fields, the site of many species new to the UAE in recent years, and the normally restricted Al Wathba lake (formerly Al-Ghar lake), a wetlands site where flamingoes have repeatedly made attempts to breed. At the lake we saw various waders and shorebirds and posed for photos in front of the hide visited by Prince Charles.

[P.S.: Next year is Dubai's turn to host Inter-Emirates Weekend, and it is never too early to start thinking about ideas.]

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Pistachios in the Musandam

Report by Gary Feulner

Identification by Prof. Loutfy Boulos has confirmed the presence of wild pistachio trees Pistacia khinjuk in the mountains of the Musandum area, in a tributary of Wadi Khabb Shamsi. The trees were first noticed by Gary Feulner and Barbara Couldrey. A follow-up visit counted 16 trees along some 3 km of wadi. Several of the trees were in flower in mid-March and in fruit in early April. Gary admits he made the decision to visit this particular wadi shortly after realizing it was one that had escaped him over the years, but he and Barbara were on the lookout, knowing that this area near the main gorges of Wadi Khabb Shamsi contains several species of trees and shrubs that are otherwise very rare. Most of these grow there as cliff plants, out of reach of animals and humans alike. The pistachios were no exception, but Gary and Barbara were able to make their way to a few specimens for a closer look.

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Toads in Mountain Cisterns

Report by Gary Feulner

A few months ago, a DNHG field trip to the mountain settlement of Sal Dhayah, north of Ras al-Khaimah, featured the dramatic rescue of a young goat trapped in a dry cistern. In early May, Barbara Couldrey and Gary Feulner returned to the area and found, to their surprise, that two traditional stone-lined cisterns at either end of the settlement had been filled with almost a meter of water. Although several other cisterns were empty, the two in question remained better served by their original falaj troughs, and this appears to have made the difference, apparently concentrating runoff from recent showers.

Equally surprising was to find toads and tadpoles in the cisterns. In one, dozens of tadpoles and tiny toads swam at the surface, the toadlets often resting at the waterline along the vertical walls. Barbara spotted a single, rather large adult at the shady end, apparently trying to exit, persistently but unsuccessfully, by climbing the 2 metres or so to the top of the cistern. In the second cistern there were only large tadpoles, some with well developed legs. Many of these tadpoles had developed the habit of swimming at the surface in an upside down position, feeding on surface organisms and debris (including many Acacia tortilis blossoms) with their ventrally located mouths.

The large size of all of the tadpoles and the presence of toadlets in one cistern indicates that the rain responsible for their birth fell as much as a couple of months ago or more. It is an interesting question, however, just where these toads came from and where they will go. Most cisterns at Sal Dhayah are 2 to 4 metres deep and Barbara and Gary agreed, consistent with what they witnessed, that toads would be unable to exit these cisterns unless the water level was at or near the lip. This raises the possibility that, during periods of limited rain, toads are born and grow to adulthood wholly within the confines of a single cistern, where (if they survive to adulthood) they must burrow and aestivate in the drying mud of the empty cistern (which they can do for periods of two years or more), emerging with the next rains to breed, but dispersing only if the rain is sufficient to cause the cistern to overflow. Although these cisterns may be larger than many of the ephemeral natural pools in which local toads breed, it is generally possible for toads to escape from natural pools, and adult B. dhufarensis are usually said to be found away from water rather than in it. In any case, once dispersed, adult toads would be constrained to return to water to breed. In or near settlements, cisterns will often be the most reliable venue.

The widespread but rather circumspect presence of toads in the Musandam area has only recently been appreciated. It was reported on in an article in Tribulus 11.2 (Autumn/Winter 2001) by DNHG members Peter Cunningham and Gary Feulner, who found that virtually all of the toads within the mountains of the Musandam region are the Dhofar toad Bufo dhufarensis, whereas the most common toad by far in the mountains of the UAE from Khatt and Dibba southwards is the Arabian toad Bufo arabicus. The Sal Dhayah toads and tadpoles were inspected with binoculars and, consistent with expectations, they were found to be Dhofar toads.

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Out of Africa: Al Maha

Desert Drive

Report by Gary Feulner

The desert near the Al Maha resort has had no rain for several years, apart from a thunderstorm in mid-2000. This, combined with heavy grazing pressure from camels, meant that the flora was limited. Near a long-established plantation and camel camp on a broad sand flats, Sodom's Apple Calotropis procera and the Desert Squash Citrullus colocynthis were abundant, but little else. Further into the desert the principal shrub was the Fireworks bush Leptadenia pyrotechnica, in which gazelle sometimes shelter. A few dense, grazed shrubs of the Desert Thorn Lycium shawii, looking like sculptures bonsai, somehow managed to bear fruit, small red berries decorating their interior. At a camel camp situated among some rolling, ghaf tree covered dunes, we were sad to see that most of the ghafs had been severely cropped for fodder. No one could say whether these large trees, whose roots can extend for more than 60 meters, could survive this intensive, non-traditional cropping.

After a coffee stop, Peter van Amsterdam and Anne Millen demonstrated once again why they are among our most popular trip leaders. "Would you like to see oryx?" Peter asked. Silly question. Peter had ordered up a herd of 25 or so Arabian oryx, waiting for us along the Al Maha fence, including juveniles of several ages, coloured from beige (the youngest) to white. Enroute we watched a small squadron of European bee-eaters mob a still-unidentified eagle. "So you like antelope?" said Peter. And off we headed for a detour to the menagerie of one of the Dubai sheikhs at Marqab, to see some African species including Baisa oryx (native to North Africa), Eland, Sable, and several gazelle species including Arabia's own reem or sand gazelle. The main attraction, however, was the flock of ostriches, all a bit the worse for wear, most with bald rumps from (it seemed) picking flies or other parasites off each other.

The wind rose at lunchtime, giving added meaning to the term "sand"wich. Having tested the group in action, Peter and Anne headed off track after lunch. It was instructive to watch their well coordinated teamwork. At one problematic passage in some high dunes, Anne carefully scouted hundreds of metres on foot, only to turn and find Peter right behind her with the car. Gaynor Mulholland was making her very first desert drive and turned in a superb performance, getting herself into and out of several tricky situations on soft slopes and ridges. The Usshers made their own thrills. Dared by his wife and son John, and with the end in sight, Anthony took on a ski jump and made a perfect three-point landing - front wheels dug in and one rear wheel waving in mid-air. Rescue awaited many photographs for the family album. Margaret and Lothar Trinogga were more notable for their measured calm, matched only by their gear, which won the day's award for best tie-downs. With the wind still picking up, Peter and Anne wisely elected an exit via a gravelled track through the big dune patches north of the Shuwayb Dam.

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What's in a name? Wadi Khabb, etc.

Report by Gary Feulner

To those in the know, the name of Wadi Khabb will sound familiar. But don't be fooled -- there's danger afoot for the unwary. Wadi Khabb (plain vanilla) is a large wadi that drains much of the mountains in the area E of RAK airport, and flows out SSW to Tawiyyan. At least half of it, and all of the driveable track, is in the UAE, and it continues to be extensively developed for agriculture. Confusion often arises, however, with Wadi Khabb Shamsi, which constitutes the Gulf of Oman side of the "over-the-top" route from RAK to Dibba. Wadi Khabb Shamsi is wholly in Oman. To add to the confusion, an early and populous branch of Wadi Khabb Shamsi is Wadi Khabb Naqbi.

What is a khabb? And what do these names mean? The answer depends a little bit on who you ask. William Lancaster, an anthropologist who asks similar questions in the mountains for a living, cautioned that it is surprisingly difficult to get agreement on such points. According to a Shihuh friend of Gary Feulner, in the Ru'us al-Jibal (the mountains of the Musandam region) a khabb denotes a shallow hole or depression, possibly best translated as trough or basin or hollow. If so, however, a bit of understatement is at work, since all of the khabbs named above are formidable wadis and none meets the average flatlander's of "shallow." But a Ras al-Khaimah government official who also grew up in the Musandam says that he understands khabb to be just a local word for "fork" or "branch" (of a wadi).

In any case, the name has been applied to other places such as Wadi Khabbayn ("Two Khabbs"), a tributary of Wadi Bih which in fact branches near its mouth into two nearly equal forks. The name Khabb Shamsi is said with greater certainty to refer to the Al Bu Shamis tribe (not the sun or shams) and Khabb Naqbi is likewise said to be named for the Naqbiyyin tribe.

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Snail Call

A reminder, especially for new members: your unwanted garden snails and slugs are wanted for scientific study and an accounting of the terrestrial snails of the UAE. All specimens will be gratefully accepted by Chairman Gary Feulner, and contributors will be kept informed of progress and pedigrees. Suburban gardens are home to several native Arabian snails, but also a number of introduced species. There have already been a few surprises and we know that more are out there. Dead shells are preferred; we'll follow up if you've got something unusual. It's easy. Just bag 'em and tag 'em! Please remember to record the location and the habitat, as well as your name, the date, and any remarks.

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Gubrah Bowl trip

Report by Marijcke Jongbloed

The fifteen or so participants of the Gubrah Bowl trip met at the Sohar hotel for coffee or lunch before setting out into the Oman mountains. Rustaq was the first stop. Most people went to visit the beautifully renovated fort, but I chose to walk around town a bit, having seen the fort before. Almost immediately I found some interesting plants: the jute plant Corchorus - but a variety with much larger flowers and leaves than our local one; Solanum incanum a member of the nightshade family with a large purple flower and yellow fruits, and a Cleome that was new to me.

It was late afternoon when we reached the camping spot, which was located at the foot of the mountains that form the ring of Gubrah Bowl. It was a very nice spot, but the wildflowers that I had expected were nowhere to be seen. Obviously this part of Oman had had as little rain as we have had the past four years. All was dry, grey and dusty. That did not prevent the group from having a great evening under the stars, singing songs from all over the world. No doubt libations helped.

The next day was a gorgeous day, sunny and hot, and we set out on our wildflower foray. Peter thought there might be more vegetation in a wadi around the back of the mountains, but the countryside remained bleak and barren. I did point out some perennials that were already past flowering, and some annuals that were about 3 mm in height, but so far it was not a highly successful botanical tour! High up on the mountain side, we saw two villages which had adjoining plantations. We decided to see if we could get there. The plantation of the first village seemed hard to reach so we continued our way up. There the first interesting botanical find occurred: a Maerua crassifolia tree in full flower. This species is rare here (I am not sure that it has ever been seen in UAE territory) but in Gubrah Bowl it is omnipresent. It attracted clouds of Desert White butterflies!

The upper village, called Wakan, had only limited parking place, but we managed to find a spot for each of us. The view from this point was stunning, especially in the early morning when the air was still clear. Mini went into the village to see if we could get permission to see the plantation. It seemed to be no problem and in fact the villagers were very good about having so many strangers invade their privacy. A small path led through the village and a dense pomegranate plantation. Then fields of wheat appeared and immediately there were dozens of wonderful spring annuals to be seen: a dark pink Dianthus (carnation), the yellow buttercup Ranunculus muricatus, the vetch Vicia sativa, the small purple Fumaria parviflora that is very rare here, and dozens of the broomrape Orobanche aegyptiaca, only seen by me once before. I even found a specimen of Veronica, which I do not associate with desert climates! Peach trees blossomed and vines with grapes were in evidence. Beans were being harvested, and many other crops were being grown. Mini said that she had never seen such a beautiful oasis before. Children were pulling water bottles on small carts, having filled them at the fresh water spring that runs permanently, we were told. Old men were squatting between the beans to harvest the vegetable. It was a shame that we did not have more time because only a few of us made it to the higher levels of the plantation. I took two rolls of films of pictures, mostly to illustrate the new book. After an hour or so we had to make it down the mountains again to find a shady place for lunch and allow people enough time to make the long drive back to Dubai. A shady sidr tree, next to some fantastic Maerua trees, provided a good place to sample Valerie's amazing carrot cake, after which we split up in various groups to either go back or continue separately.

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Coming! A Guide to the Wildflowers of the UAE

The Environment Research and Wildlife Development Agency in Abu Dhabi has decided to give financial support to Marijcke Jongbloed in order to produce the comprehensive Guide to the Wildflowers of the UAE. The book shall contain around 600 species of the annuals and perennials that occur in the UAE and the adjoining areas of Oman (basically the places UAE residents can reach without getting a visa) and shall be illustrated with colour photographs of each of the plant and their details. Wherever it is necessary line drawings will clarify some salient point of recognition of the plants. Marijcke will cooperate closely with other botanical experts such as Prof. Loutfy Boulos, Rob Western, Benno Boer, and Gary Feulner in order to get the best possible identifications, photographs, and descriptions of plants, habitats and distributions. The project is planned to take 13 months, with publication of the book set for early April 2003.

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Domestic Cats as a Threat to the Environment in the UAE

Report by Peter Cunningham

It is not certain when the domestication of cats occurred, but what is confirmed is that humans have always had an affinity for this feline. Ancient Egyptian art including the city Bubastis, that was devoted to their worship (Anderson & de Winton 1902), confirms this early association with humans. As they are highly versatile creatures with a very wide habitat tolerance, they can become feral very successfully and have managed to establish themselves as feral populations in as diverse situations as the Kalahari Desert in Botswana to Marion Island in the sub-Antarctic (Skinner & Smithers 1990). Marion Island is a good "bad case scenario" as five cats were originally introduced in 1949 (van Aarde & Robinson 1980) to control house mice, but by 1977 an established feral population of approximately 3400 were ravaging the marine bird population. An alarming natural increase per annum of 23% (van Aarde 1978) was estimated for the feral cat population which resulted in a dramatic eradication programme to rid the island of this scourge.

A pair of breeding cats, which can have two or more litters per year, can exponentially produce 420,000 offspring over a seven-year period (Savage 2001). It is estimated that the United Kingdom and the USA have 1 million and 60 million feral cats, respectively (Hartwell 1996). The problem is thus daunting with few real solutions offered. This note touches on a few issues concerning feral cats and possible implications.

Hybridization

A most disconcerting issue is the genetic pollution through hybridization. According to Skinner & Smithers (1990) and Griffin & Simmons (1998), the African wild cat (Felis lybica – conspecific with F.silvestris from Arabia) interbreeds with the domestic cat where they come into contact. This results in fertile hybrids (Bothma 1996) and possibly the decline of pure-bred African wild cats anywhere near settled areas, rendering the species vulnerable (Smithers 1986). The fate of F.silvestris from Arabia is probably similar. Harrison & Bates (1991) state that great difficulty is experienced in differentiating between domestic cat and Wild Cat in Arabia. This could indicate historic interbreeding with the possibility that little if any genetically "pure" Wild Cats remain locally. This would however have to be determined genetically.

Excessive predation

Fitzgerald (1988) states that the diet of feral cats include small mammals (70%), birds (20%) and a variety of other animals (10%). The diets of feral cat populations, however, reflect the food locally available. Observation of feral cats shows that some individuals can kill over 1000 wild animals per year (Bradt, 1949). It is estimated that over a billion small mammals and hundreds of millions of birds are killed by cats (including domestic cats) each year in the USA (Coleman & Temple, 1996). In Australia both feral and domestic cats kill more than 100 native Australian species of birds, 50 mammal and marsupial species, 50 reptile species, and numerous frogs and invertebrate species (Anon, 1997a). Worldwide, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction (Coleman, Temple, & Craven, 1997).

Cats are skilled and successful hunters, as anyone who has ever watched a stalking cat would confirm. Virtually any species smaller than it is fair game. Bambaradeniya et al. (2001) state that domestic/feral cats, as opportunistic predators and scavengers, are an additional threat to the herpetofauna of Sri Lanka while Pero & Crowe (1996) recognize that nest predation by feral cats may cause potential danger to game birds. Cats can result in dramatic declines of birds as indicated on Marion Island with its vulnerable ground nesting and burrow nesting marine birds. By 1965/66 the once common Diving Petrel no longer nested on the island due to heavy predation by cats.

It is not documented how many cats are officially and/or unofficially resident in and around towns and cities throughout the UAE, but it can fairly accurately be assumed that an alarming number of reptiles and small mammals must certainly fall prey to them. What the effect on local bird and reptile populations is could only be speculated. For the defense of feral cats the following has been documented. Hartwell (1995) states that cats prefer to hunt introduced "pest" species (pigeons, rabbits, mice, etc.) and even co-exist with the marsupial "Native Cat" in Tasmania. Ally Cat Allies (ACA) state that the impact of feral cats on bird populations is negligible and that the decline of bird and other wildlife populations is rather directly linked to the loss of natural habitat (Anonymous, 1997b).

It is feared that feral cats also compete with native predators by reducing the availability of prey species. The effect that feral cats have on the local environment is something that has to be investigated further.

Disease

Contagious diseases of domestic cats can be important since these diseases can possibly be transmitted to wild cat species (Bothma 1996). Cases such as feline leukemia spreading to mountain lions (Jessup et al. 1993) and feline panleukopenia (feline distemper) spreading to the endangered Florida Panther (Roelke et al. 1993) have already been documented in the USA. Domestic carnivores should always be considered a potential source of contamination for wild ones. Mönnig & Veldman (1989) name cat flu (Parvovirus disease) and cat tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis), last mentioned transmitted through rats/mice, as 2 important diseases which are linked to domestic cats. How these diseases affect wild cats is also unknown. Feral cats are thought not to act as a vector for rabies although they are susceptible to the disease and do die from it. Toxoplasmosis is another disease transmitted by cats and which can cause blindness, birth defects and miscarriage in humans (Anon 1997a).

Eradication

On Marion Island it took almost 15 years of crude methods ranging from the introduction of Cat flu, actively hunting to poisoning to eradicate a few thousand cats in a relatively small and isolated area (Bester et al. 2000). However, extermination isn't simple or straightforward and is often counter-productive. No eradication method is 100% effective in eliminating cats and those which evade the exterminators breed several times a year depending on climate and available food/shelter, thus quickly re-colonising the area (Hartwell 1995). Cleared areas also attract new cats from outside due to the vacancy of a favourable habitat with under utilized food/prey.

Australian studies found that the neutering of several feral colonies led to an overall reduction in cat numbers as the resident, non-breeding populations deterred other cats which would have swarmed into a vacated area (Hartwell 1995).

Eradication methods, even if implemented humanely, cannot solve the feral cat problem. Trapping and neutering does however offer a longer-term solution although it is very expensive. The only way to keep an area cat-free is to remove food sources (edible refuse, prey species, handouts by cat-lovers), something, which is often impossible or impractical.

What you can do

Very little scientific work has focussed on the influences of domestic and/or feral cats on their immediate environment in the UAE. The concerns as documented in this note do however acknowledge a potential threat and warn against the long-term implications of the further establishment of feral cats throughout the country.

It is thus strongly suggested that the feeding of feral cats be dissuaded and an effective neutering and/or eradication programme be implemented to protect indigenous and endemic species, and ultimately the UAE’s heritage, from falling prey to feral cats. Further research is also necessary to determine the extent of the problem.

  • Keep only as many pet cats as you can feed and care for.
  • Control reproduction and humanely euthanize unwanted cats.
  • On farms, keep only the minimum number of free-ranging cats needed to control rodents.
  • Neuter your cats or prevent them from breeding, and encourage others to do so.
  • Support or initiate efforts to require licensing and neutering of pets. In areas where such laws already exist, insist that they be enforced.
  • Locate bird feeders in sites that do not provide cover for cats to wait in ambush for birds.
  • Don't dispose of unwanted cats by releasing them in rural areas.
  • Eliminate sources of food, such as garbage or outdoor pet food dishes, that attract stray cats.
  • Don't feed stray cats.
  • If at all possible, for the sake of your cat and local wildlife, keep your cat indoors.
  • Contact your local animal welfare organization for help.
References

Anderson, J. & de Winton, W.E. 1902. Zoology of Egypt, Mammalia. Hugh Rees Pub. London. In: Harrison, D.L. & Bates, P.J.J. 1991. The Mammals of Arabia. Harrison Zoological Museum Pub. Kent, UK.

Anonymous, 1997a. Cats and Wildlife. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia. [www.npws.nsw.gov.au/help/catswild.htm]

Anonymous, 1997b. Feral Cats, New Environmental Witch-Hunt. Alley Cat Allies (ACA). [www.feralcat.com]

Bambaradeniya, C.N.B., Wickramasinghe, L.J.M., Samarawickrama, V.A.P. & Kekulandala, L.D.C.B. 2001. Herpetofaunal mortality in highways: A case study from Sri Lanka. Abstracts – Fourth World Congress of Herpetology, 3rd-9th December 2001, Bentota, Sri Lanka: 10-11.

Bester, M.N., Bloomer, J.P., Bartlett, P.A., Muller, D.D., van Rooyen, M. & Büchner, H. Final eradication of feral cats from sub-Antarctic Marion Island, southern Indian Ocean. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 30(1): 53-57.

Bothma, J. du P. 1996. Game ranch management. J.L. Van Schaik Publishers, Pretoria, RSA.

Bradt, G.W. 1949. Farm cat as predator. Michigan Conservation 18(4): 23-25.

Coleman, J.S. & Temple, S.A. 1996. On the Prowl. Wisconsin Natural Resources 20(6):4-8.

Coleman, J.S., Temple, S.A. & Craven, S.R. 1997. Cats and Wildlife...A Conservation Dilemma. [http://www.wisc.edu/wildlife/e-pubs.html]

Fitzgerald, B.M. 1988. Diet of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations. In: Turner, D.C. & Bateson, P. (eds.). The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Harrison, D.L. & Bates, P.J.J. 1991. The Mammals of Arabia. Harrison Zoological Museum Pub. Kent, UK.

Hartwell, S. 1995. Why feral eradication won't work. Feline Advisory Bureau. [www.feralcat.com]

Hartwell, S. 1996. The American feral cat problem. Feline Advisory Bureau. [www.feralcat.com]

Jessup, D.A., Pettan, K.C., Lowenstine, L.J. & Pedersen, N.C. 1993. Feline leukemia virus infection and renal spirochetosis in free-ranging cougar (Felis concolor). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 24:73-79.

Mönnig, H.O. & Veldman, F.J. 1989. Handbook on stock diseases. Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town, RSA.

Pero, L.V. & Crowe, T.M. 1996. Helmeted Guineafowl, Numida meleagris, in Kwazulu-Natal – A case for non-sustainability. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 26(4): 123-130.

Roelke, M.E., Forester, D.J., Jacobson, E.R., Kollias, G.V., Scott, F.W., Barr, M.C., Evermann, J.F. & Pirtel, E.C. 1993. Seroprevalence of infectious disease agents in free-ranging Florida panthers (Felis concolor coryi). Journal of Wildlife Diseases 29: 36-49.

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Skinner, J.D. & Smithers, R.H.N. 1990. Mammals of the Southern African subregion. University of Pretoria, Pretoria, RSA.

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Van Aarde, R.J. 1978. Reproduction and population ecology in the feral house cat on Marion Island. Carnivore Genetics Newsletter 3: 288-316.

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Joint ENHG Abu Dhabi and DNHG Fossil Trip to Jebel Rawdah, January 2002

Report by Valerie Chalmers

30 members of the Dubai Natural History Group set out, in convoy, from the International World Trade Centre Hotel covered car park, at 8.15 a.m., on January 18th 2002, to visit Jebel Rawdah which is not far from Madam and lies to the left of the road which runs from Madam to Hatta. They were joined at the Madam roundabout by 10 members of the Emirates Natural History Group, Abu Dhabi, who had camped overnight at Jebel Buhays. At Jebel Rawdah, late Cretaceous marine sediments directly overlie ophiolite on the northern side and, at the south-eastern end they rest on deformed and steeply dipping sedimentary rocks of the Hawasina group. First of all we visited the south-eastern end to look for fossils. After a short briefing and the distribution of fossil identification sheets, we set out to see what we could find. A good selection of fossils was collected over a period of an hour and a half. Lots of gastropods including 9 specimens of the flattened type Trochacea, several specimens of Acteonella, many Natica, 2 specimens of the large gastropod Campanile, several olives, members of the Strombidae plus other assorted shapes were found. The bivalves found included Neithea, lophate oysters, mussels, cockles and at a least 15 specimens of Scabrotrigonia (Trigonidae). A few specimens of rudists (a special type of bivalve, now extinct) were also seen. These included Durania and a few specimens of hippuritids. Many specimens of the solitary discoidal (almost button-like) coral Cunnolites plus colonial corals were seen. Specimens of the larger benthic foraminifera Loftusia (cigar –shaped) and Nummulites were also found. One specimen of Deltoidonautilus which belongs to the Cephalopods and has low, relatively shallow and lobed suture lines compared with the more strongly folded suture lines of Ammonites was found. Jebel Rawdah has been a good place to find specimens of echinoderms and those found included Globator, Conulus, Coenholectypus, Hattopsis, Faujasia, Nucleopypus, Vologesia rawdahensis, Mecaster victoris and Goniopygus. These are illustrated in the attached sheet. One fish tooth was also found.

After an identification session, some members made their respective ways back to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The rest of us drove round the back of Jebel Rawdah for lunch and then spent a short while looking for fossils there. Of note, one specimen of the large echinoid Hemipneustes arabicus and one of Orthopsis miliaris were found in addition to further specimens of fossils already found at the first site.

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Shelling Field Trip March 2002

Report by Sandy Fowler

An ideally sized group of shellers met up on Khor Fakkan corniche at 10.30 am to witness Sandy being 5 minutes late for the first time in 10 years! They were briefed on a selection of at least three other beaches to visit, and started shelling only 25 yards from the cars. With a reasonable reward from the corniche beach, including some cones (Conidae) and sundial shells (Architectonidae), graffiti beach (now signposted Lulayya village) was next tackled and, although there was a disappointing lack of cones to be found, Sandy Fowler managed to spot a small paper nautilus high up on the beach. Further up the coast was the third beach, close to Sandy Beach Motel. This one lived up to its nickname (Wentle cove) with three wentletraps (Epitoniidae) of two species being found as well as four cowry species. A hot sun and little wind were by this time weeding out the saner members of the group, but some pressed on northwards to check out another two beaches. Unfortunately, little of note was found on them. A good day, that seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by all.

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Bravo, Lamjid!

On Friday, March 29th a group of 44 people from Dubai Natural History Group were introduced to Lamjid’s bold new venture, a ‘live-aboard’ dhow, which is based at Dibba. Lamjid saw there was a need for a modern version of the traditional dhow which would both give divers a comfortable base to use, and day trippers who wanted to cruise the Musandam, snorkelling and relaxing. Lamjid designed and commissioned a boat that he felt would suit everyone’s needs. It is on three levels. Air-conditioned sleeping berths and bathrooms on the lower deck, a sitting room/galley and captain’s area with a large seating area for the visitors on the quarter deck, and plenty of space for sun loungers and diving equipment on the top deck. Needless to say, Lamjid has thought about safety, and talked about that aspect before the cruise started. Life jackets were available for everyone should the need arise.

We were welcomed aboard with breakfast, hot coffee and croissants and stood on deck, watching a fish auction in Dibba harbour. The fisherman rushed in with their night’s catch where a group of buyers were awaiting them. One Omani stepped forward to take the role of autioneer. Lively bidding was over in a few minutes and the fish were loaded into waiting cool boxes. There seemed to be some large kingfish for sale, barracuda, a few hamour and one shark – but it was noticeable that these were not huge catches.

We then set off for our day’s cruise and were shown two villages. The first had a perilous road down to the village, but the second was only accessible from the sea. Small stone houses, still inhabited, showed the style of building before the arrival of modern materials and conveniences. Cheerful locals waved to us.

Later we anchored and most people took the opportunity to snorkel over the coral reef. If anyone hadn’t thought to bring snorkels, masks and flippers that was no problem. There was enough equipment for everyone to use. Hard and soft corals formed the reef and there was a wide variety of reef fish. Lamjid has designed a diving platform that is easy to use – none of the leaping off from a precarious ladder, as is the way that swimmers enter the water from ordinary dhows. A hot lunch of tuna, chicken, salads and rice was being prepared in the galley which was quite delicious and gave us all a chance to chat and get to know other members of the group on board. Two experienced divers are joining the staff this week to organise the venture and they were able to tell us of the future plans for the dhows. There is a second dhow on its way already and they are hoping to build up their clientele from dive and tour companies, as well as hotels in the Emirates.

Finally we steamed back to Dibba with rain clouds hovering overhead. Everyone agreed the day had been superbly organised. We had all had a fun-filled, relaxing day. Wonderful job, Lamjid.

Lamjid is offering trips which will cover more ground around the Musandam. His contact numbers are Lamjid or 050 4815068 if you want to receive more details. What a perfect way this would be also to entertain visitors to the Emirates. There is no need to wait for DNHG to organise it for you – just contact Lamjid direct.

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