May 2002 Newsletter

May 2002 Newsletter

Issue No. 209


Share your news and discoveries

This newsletter is published free and is circulated to more than 130 members in the Al Ain area. If you are planning an activity please notify the Editor so other members can be involved. Remember everybody is able to contribute to Emirates recordings. For further details of items listed in this newsletter visit our website at: /index.html or join our e-mail discussion group.

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Editor's Note

by Fiona Newson-Smith

For those who missed the Desert Survival night it was quite an ambitious format… lifting webs - hi lift jacks - scorpion bites - inflatable stretchers - aircraft distress signals - broken backs…and lots of valuable tips about being properly prepared off road! Despite us having a poor venue, the evening went very well and many questions were posed. We will be doing something similar early next year. At the first meeting in May, one of our regular favourites, Dr Latifa, spoke to a full house, about her experiences working at the Oasis hospital for 38 years. She first came to the Trucal States as a young nurse in 1962 and is now Cultural Advisor at the new Abu Dhabi hospital. Afterwards, she signed copies of her book "The Oasis'. A membership survey is being conducted to determine the present spread of interest across various special interest groups and information on your views about a variety ofther matters. The findings will be published in September and should make interesting reading. The final meeting this month is the culmination of the Spring Photography Competition - 'Tracks' and the Marmalade Competition - good luck to those who entered…...

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Mamouls: The Feral Threat

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. 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 that resulted in a dramatic eradication programme to rid the island of this scourge.

Hybrid: Gordon's Wildcat cross

A pair of breeding cats, which can have 2 or more litters per year, can exponentially produce 420 000 offspring over a 7-year period (Savage 2001). It is estimated that the United Kingdom and the USA have 10 000 000 and 60 000 000 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. Harrison & Bates (1991) state that great difficulty is experienced in differentiating between domestic cat and Wild Cat F.silvestris 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 includes small mammals (70%), birds (20%) and a variety of other animals (10%). The diets of feral cat populations 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 over one 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 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 can confirm, virtually any species smaller 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 resident in the UAE, but it can be assumed that an alarming number of reptiles and small mammals must certainly fall prey to them. The effect on local bird and reptile populations can only be speculated but it is feared that feral cats compete with native predators by reducing the availability of prey species.

In defense of feral cats Hartwell (1995) states that cats prefer to hunt introduced "pest" species such as: pigeons, rabbits, mice 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).

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 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 linked to domestic cats. How these diseases affect wild cats is unknown but Feral cats are thought not to act as a vector for rabies although they are susceptible to the disease and die from it. Toxoplasmosis is another disease transmitted by cats that 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). No eradication method is fully effective and those evading extermination breed several times a year quickly re-colonising the area (Hartwell 1995).

Cleared areas attract cats from outside regions 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 offers a longer-term solution although it is very expensive. The only way to keep an area cat-free is to remove food sources such as: edible refuse, prey species, handouts by cat-lovers and this may be impossible or impractical to implement.

What to do - Very little scientific work has focused on the influences of domestic and/or feral cats on their immediate environment in the UAE. The concerns documented in this note 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 necessary to determine the extent of the problem.

  • Keep only as many pet cats as you can care for.
  • Control reproduction and humanely euthanize any unwanted cats.
  • 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 the same.
  • 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 ambush the birds
  • Do not release unwanted cats in rural areas.
  • Eliminate sources of food attracting stray cats, such as garbage or outdoor pet food dishes.
  • Do not feed stray cats.
  • Keep your cat indoors.
  • Contact your local animal welfare organisation for help.

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Twitcher's: Dawn Chorus at Jimi Oasis

by Len Bailey

The sun was just appearing over the horizon when we gathered at the well-littered Al Ain Mall car park on Friday morning of 10th May. We headed for the Al Jimi Oasis, 4km north west of the Al Ain city centre. Staging an outing this early on Friday morning has a number of advantages not least that it is relatively cool and the vague satisfaction that comes with having one's hide out of bed before sunrise and engaged more or less wholesomely. The 12 mins drive ended at the small car park in the middle of the Oasis, right next to a restored fort (as someone once said a faux-fort!) By 6.20am there were 7 vehicles and 14 sentient beings ready to take in the pleasures of Al Jimi Oasis (one member from far off Ibri).

What strikes one upon alighting from the vehicle is the attractiveness of the place; the fort, the paving, the trees, the coolness, and the abundance and liveliness of the birds. In May the breeding season is well under way and the birds don't mind who knows it; at daybreak they are lively, hungry and noisy. A gardener was already working the falaj system and had flooded a patch of palm grove, which had drawn 15 active Bank Mynahs in for what is called in Australia, a Dingo's breakfast - a drink of water and a good look round. The most common birds present at the Al Jimi Oasis, and throughout Al Ain, are: House Sparrows, Palm Doves, Common Mynahs, and Feral Pigeons. But birders don't bother reporting the common stuff. Even the Grey Francolin often does not rate a mention in written reports, as it is so widespread in the UAE - fortunately. We saw at least 10 of them at Al Jimi, some of them quite close, one didn't both to fly away, it just ran away; it must take quite an effort to get its chicken-like body off the ground.

One favourable aspect of the Al Jimi Oasis is the large number of non-palm trees that are quite mature, and at this time of year in full flower. It is these, and the open-area grasses, also flowering and seeding, that make this area so alive with insects and birds. The number of different bird species at Al Jimi is surprising given that the Al Ain Oasis has relatively few different types.

In addition to those already mentioned there were many Purple Sunbirds; we were hardly out of sight of at least one Sunbird for the two hours we were there. They are in breeding mode, the male strikingly purple-black (pictured), the female a dull grey-yellow; extraordinary, as in winter the two are almost indistinguishable. 4m off the ground in clear view was a Sunbird nest, a small hanging collection of twigs and fibrous material, with a circular entrance on the side towards the top.

Purple Sunbird

During the morning we were further privileged to see 20 Ring-necked Parakeets squawking loudly as is their wont, 15 little Indian Silverbills working the grasses for seeds, an Indian Roller flashing blue, 6 Rufous Bushchats brown in the rump with tails cocked, 2 Hoopoes handsomely patterned in white, brown and black, 15 sharp featured little Green Bee-eaters menacing the winged insects, 7 Martins in non-stop flight, 2 tiny graceful Prinias with tails pointing skywards, 5 Bulbuls melodious as ever, and one bird of a species that I could not identify. (I always count an outing a success if I sight a bird not seen before).

The walk included, apart from the birds, some mud-brick ruins, a couple of wells, and some penned domestic animals. The party re-assembled at the car park at 8.30am, it was warming-up. Some departed, 9 others motored to the Heritage Village close by, for breakfast and to complete a brief but most memorable morning walk.

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Bookworm: Dubai Explorer 2002

by Lawrence Garey

From the publishers of the excellent UAE Off-road Explorer comes this new guide to Dubai. It even has an advantage that it does not fall to pieces the first time you use it. The book consists of nearly 500 pages of tightly packed, up-to-date data on Dubai, and much on the UAE in general. There is quite a lot of advertising too, but most of it is quite acceptable, and even of interest. I imagine it has kept the price down to the very reasonable 65 dhs that the book costs. The font is small, so that means a lot of information! The introductory chapters on UAE geography, history, population, climate, culture, money and so on are actually very well done, and most readable. The section for "New Residents" is also very useful (even to not-so-new residents), and gives a lot of data about visas, driving licences, banks, post, TV, education and housing. Much is aimed at Dubai residents, but some of equal interest to us living in the sticks. The really great parts, though, are the sections on exploring Dubai: sights, hotels, restaurants and shopping, sports and clubs. The information is up to date, and the authors seem to have done an honest and accurate job. They do not hesitate to criticise, quite amusingly, when it is due. The data is densely packed, but readable. Even opening hours are given and those we tested seem to be accurate. Those of you who use the Off-road Explorer are familiar with the satellite maps they use there, and we meet the same genre in this Dubai Guide. I find them very good. There is an overview of the satellite maps to help you get orientated. If you never go to Dubai or if you know Dubai intimately, do not bother to buy this book, but for the rest I recommend it. ISBN 9768182-21-0

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Snoopy Paradise

by Becky Turner

Based in Al Ain, we expected to learn more about sand dunes and Wadis, we did not expect to find such great snorkeling. A short 2½-3 hour drive away is Sandy Beach Hotel and the well-known Snoopy Rock. It is a great place to take beginners because it is consistently good in almost every season. It is close enough to shore to be a short swim and shallow enough that even at high tide an uncertain swimmer could find a rock to stand on for a rest.

The rocks and coral around Snoopy Rock provide home for dozens of brightly coloured tropical fish such as the Arabian Butterfly. There are frequently large shoals of Fusilier Fish that give you the feeling that you are floating in a silver cloud.

We have never gone out without seeing at least one Reef Shark and there are also Black Tipped Sharks of varying sizes, one appears to be about 6ft long. They glide by so fast that you barely have time to say something to your 'snorkel partner' and they are gone! They appear unbothered by snorkellers and we have never seen any sign of aggression.

Another great treat are the Green Turtles, several are quite shy and we are careful to keep our distance but there is one that will swim so close you can look him right in the eye. The main dangers to the Turtles are: the increasing number of people (a huge fancy hotel is being built on the beach), local fishermen who throw nets too close to reefs, and oil pollution which could destroy this pristine area.

The Cuttlefish are another specialty for we have not seen these in the many other places we have snorkeled. They are Cephalopods (of the Octopus and Squid family) who look like large flat brown rocks. At certain times, especially in winter months, they mate and the males fight each other. Then, this rather plain-looking Cuttlefish turns bright blue phosphorescent colour and its tentacles come out. You can see them gliding along with their fins out and it is quite a show, usually with 3 or more in the area.

There are few dangers in these safe waters, you would not want to step on the spiney, black, Sea Urchins, the oil on the beach can be distracting, and there have been stinging Jellyfish in the area. We have rarely encountered such hazards and keep returning because the tranquility of snoopy paradise is so addictive!

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Archaeology: In Seach of Magan

by Jan Bailey

The United Arab Emirates has a continuous heritage of more than 5000 years.

'Magan' is the name by which the region of the Emirates and Sultanate of Oman were known in Mesopotamian records from the third millennium BC onwards.

Certain articles are cited in ancient texts and said to have been imported by Mesopotamia from Magan. They may be enumerated as: copper, finished objects of copper/bronze, timber, different types of wood (haluppu, mesu, makkanu), reed, onion, diorite, stone vases, carnelian, semi-precious stones, beads, red ochre, wooden-objects, ivory, gold dust, and goats!

Ancient Magan established cultural and commercial relations with Western India (now Pakistan), neighbours separated by a long broad highway of sea.

The earliest evidence, so far found here, is of Old Stone Age communities dating back to circa 40,000 - 30,000 years.

Abundant evidence of the New Stone Age communities has been recorded at numerous places throughout the 7 Emirates.

The finely shaped flint tools, are suggestive of their subsistence activity as hunters and food gatherers.

The ancient people of the Emirates depended on marine as well as land resources for their livelihood and on trade with neighbouring countries. Bahrain was known then as Dilmun and Western India/Pakistan as Meluhha. Magan is mentioned in economic and other text through the entire period of the rule of the third Dynasty of Ur.

The rock art depicted on UAE's mountains illustrates the aesthetic taste of the ancient man which he created in his leisure time, and brings to light vivid pictures of their culture.

The inhabitants of interior land must have depended on hunting of wild animals, vegetation, oasis farming, and herding of animals and natural mineral resources for their subsistence. Numerous wadis flowed from the mountains into the inland basins making Makan a fertile haven.

(Extrapolated from "The UAE" by Dr. M.A. Nayeem, King Saud University, Riyadh)

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Cartography: Hunt for Red Tin

by Fiona Newson-Smith

They received orders from e-mail '…seek and locate red cookie tin'. The clues were cryptic and obscure, it promised to be a challenging trip.

They left at dawn on a blazing summer day and headed west of the city on a new arrow-straight tarmac road. They were totally reliant upon the GPS equipment their vehicle carried. The SIG Leader, Murphy, was a seasoned operator and the two others, one man and one woman, had total faith in his experience.

They could see a track winding tantalizingly into the distance but each turning proved to be a dead-end. They were once stranded behind a huge rusty crane on a building site hidden high up in the dunes. Many times they re-traced their steps and dived once more into the desert. With each attempt the GPS co-ordinates crept down and slowly, slowly, they edged towards their prey.

Finally they found the path they were seeking and plunged off towards a remote settlement on the horizon. The sprawling mass of iron and scrap belied the many sets of eyes that watched silently, as they crept past. They came to a vista of hard sand and, fearing they were being followed, hastily traversed it leaving a dusty cloak billowing behind. The trail cloud disguised their progress as they sped away.

For many kilometers they hugged the skeleton of a vast obstacle that seemed like an abandoned vessel drifting hopelessly in the dunes. Abruptly, the co-ordinates crept up as they realized they had taken a yet another wrong turn…

Despondently they spun back, but saw a marker and turned once more. With white knuckles they surfed the waves of sand blown across the new track. Murphy's skill carried them forwards, he drove with gritted teeth and eyes fixed resolutely ahead. An endless convoy of steely ghosts glided past them until they crested a large dune and '2 Trees Bowl' came into sight.

The exposed ancient dunes were far too dangerous to drive, so they leapt from the jeep scurrying down inside of the basin towards their target. At any time expecting to be confronted by a rival crew….Their instincts warned them, it was too quiet …had the others already beaten them to the site?

After a few anxious moments nervously scratching at the base of the trees, the tin was located, camouflaged under some metal. With bated breath they decoded the last comments in the notebook …and jubilantly determined no other members had beaten them to the cache!!

They scoured the area for artifacts around the site to retrieve as trophies of the find. Murphy took several GPS readings as he always did at the end of a trip, he would carefully log the location on a chart when they returned to base. The red tin was replaced under the 'overt' camouflage and they dusted away their tracks as they retreated to the jeep. It would be many more blistering days before the tin was disturbed again from its lonely sentinel by others keen to learn its secret.

Murphy with red tin

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by Kate Lawrence


1 Cows and Antelopes are (9)
5 The lavae of Bombyx mori (9)
7 The genus Alcidae (4)
8 In Egypt a sacred bird! (4)
9 Any fish of the genus Caranx (4)
12 Small, venomous hooded snakes (4)
13 Massive marine danger to the ecology (9)
14 Pods and scods! (9)


2 The Lamprey has pouch-like ones (5)
3 These are frequently spoiled by members of the Talpidae! (5)
4 The Eagle has feathered ones (5)
5 A small crested species of Heron (7)
6 The Saury Pike, Acus minor, or the Australian ' Hopping Fish' (7)
10 Delicious, begorrah! Rhodymenia Palmata! (5)
11 This French eminence may still be the home of the Ibex (5)
12 An Indian elephant goad (5)

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