Bulletin 31 - March 1987: Some Mammals of the UAE
Some Mammals of the UAEBy Chris W. Furley
Veterinarian at the Al Ain Zoo until 1985
Most mammals in this country are nocturnal in their habits, so the casual observer will have very little chance of seeing them. There are numerous small rodents that live in the sand dunes and soily areas, but one has to search hard for them. Man has brought the domestic cat and dog, the rat, and possible the house mouse. These compete with indigenous animals, but mainly in urban areas.
I have chosen to describe four of the larger and more interesting mammals that reside here. The red fox is extremely common, but the remaining three species are very rare (or so we think).Red Fox
This animal is very similar in appearance and size to the European red fox. However, the Arabian sub-species has hairy feet, which offer better grip in the sand. It is very common around the streets of Al Ain and towns on the East Coast, but is not often seen as they begin their nocturnal activities at dusk. Foxes frequent rubbish dumps, gardens and farms in search of food. The coast is very thick, being russet or brown in color, with a large bushy tail, white belly and black ear tips. The chest may be brown, rusty or black. Unfortunately, many foxes are run over on the roads because they seem to hunt lizards that gather there for warmth at night. The diet also consists of small desert rodents, birds, fruit and carrion. They will also prey on newborn animals. Breeding occurs in December and January, and the cubs are born in February or March. Females appear to produce about three offspring, though not all of these may survive. There are two other fox species: Ruppell’s Sand Fox is similar but the tail tip is white and it avoids built-up areas; the fennec fox lives in family groups in dune country, and is the smallest of the three, being about 45 cms long excluding the tail, and with distinctive extra large ears.Wild Cat
The wild cat of Arabia is similar to the wild cat of Europe and Africa. It is very small, with a pelage of gray-brown fur with an indistinct pattern. Its color and nocturnal habits make it extremely difficult to see. The only record of a wild cat from the Al Ain area is from 1980, when one was caught by accident in the zoo grounds. A darker race has been recognized in Dubai.Sand Cat
This is a very beautiful cat by any standards. It is a light sandy brown all over, with huge eyes and a small body. This cat inhabits sand dunes, and one was brought to the zoo from near the Oman border along the Liwa road. It has a characteristically round face and large amber eyes, with black bars across the elbows. Not much is known about its diet, though it presumably preys on small mammals, birds and reptiles. It most probably lives singly or in pairs.Arabian Tahr
Jebel Hafit harbors a small population of these shy animals, which have remained largely unknown since 1968 when the last authoritative sighting occurred. Members of the Al Ain branch of the ENHG have made at least two positive sightings since 1980, and a dead male has been found. This hoofed ungulate is related to the wild goats rather than to sheep. The Himalayan and Nilgiri tahrs are close relatives; nearer home there is an extensive study being carried out on their population and behavior in Oman. It is slightly larger than the domestic goat, which it resembles at first sight. However, it does not sport a beard and the horns are semi-circular and curved backwards. The whole coat is very shaggy, brown in color, with dark hairs along the spine.
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