Bulletin 38 July 1989: Miscellany



Perhaps the most exciting natural history news to come out of the United Arab Emirates in recent months was the announcement of spectacular fossil finds in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate. An expedition led by Dr. Peter Whybrow of the British Museum Paleontological Laboratory in January 1989 discovered fossils of descendants of elephant, hippopotamus, horse, fish, rhinoceros, turtle, birds and a monkey, all dating to some 8 million years ago. Preliminary findings have been published in 'Nature' and the international and local press, and Dr.Whybrow has promised a full report for the Bulletin which we hope to bring you in our next issue. Dr. Whybrow intends to return later this year to continue investigations at the site and to make a brief survey in Fujeirah.


April 1989 was a good month for first records of breeding species. A swampy area near Khor Kalba in Sharjah Emirate on the East Coast turned up a single nest each of Little Grebe and Moorhen. Both species are common breeders further north, in the Middle East and Europe, but until now have been recorded only as winter visitors to the UAE. Near Jazirat al Hamra in Ras al Khaimah Emirate a pair of Hoopoes were recorded nesting in a hole in a tree for the second year running. On the east side of Abu Dhabi Island itself, a pair of Egyptian Geese succeeded in hatching eight goslings among the mangroves (though most of the chicks disappeared very suddenly, and it is now doubtful whether any of the brood survived). On both rocky and offshore islands, the nesting of seabirds was well under way in April and May. White-cheeked Terns began nesting on Qarnein in late May, though on man-made structures around Das their season began later than usual, in early June. The latest issue of 'Sandgrouse' (No.10), the annual journal of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East (OSME) published three lengthy articles on the Emirates; one was a report from Durham University on a survey of wetland habitats in the Northern Emirates; Colin Richardson of the Dubai Group contributed a piece on migration patterns through Dubai 1984-88, co-authored by Adrian Chapman of the Abu Dhabi Group; and Dr. Ghassan Ramadan Jaradi, Director of Al Ain Zoo, contributed an article on breeding species in the country. On Das Island an Indian House Crow was resident between 23rd March and 7th April 1989, surely the most westerly and remote recording for the species in the country yet.


It was reported in the local press on 6th May 1989 that a wolf had been spotted at a rubbish tip on the outskirts of Sharjah town once in January and once in February. The animal was described by Roy Green, a photographer with Dubai-based Motivate Publishing, and he also examined the tracks. The Arabian Wolf Canis lupus arabs is a highly-endangered species, occasionally recorded in the Hajjar Mountains. One was also recorded recently by an ENHG member between Hatta and Mahdah in Oman, beside the carcass of a dead camel.

Two pairs of the rare Gordon's Wild Cat were sent to the USA at the end of April 1989 for breeding, in an attempt to save this endangered species from extinction. The two pairs are descended from cats originally captured in the wild in the UAE and bred by Dr. Marjcke Jongbloed, well-known in the Dubai NHG. She has already sent pairs to East and West German Zoos and with this latest airlift, courtesy of Lufthansa, the preservation of a viable breeding population seems assured. All the cats in captivity descend from the same mother, and Dr. Jongbloed hopes that another female can be captured alive to broaden the genetic strain of the captive animals. There has been only one sighting of the species since 1986.


Ad-Door: In March 1989 a French team completed their third season of excavations at this site in Umm al Qaiwain. The area was inhabited in the first century AD but Ad-Door as a town is associated more with the third century on. In this latest season a ten-roomed house was excavated and the presumed owner was found buried beneath a courtyard along with a camel as a probable sacrifice. When this building was eventually abandoned, it became a cemetery site and some fifty fourth century graves have so far been identified. These are shallow, about 35 cms deep, and contained such artefacts as glass bowls, vases, tiny bottles (presumably for ointments or perfumes), beads, arrow heads and bronze and silver ornaments. Such artefacts imply considerable trade throughout the Gulf region and beyond. The bodies had been buried with the head lying in clasped hands, and though religious burial rites are not proven, preliminary findings hint at the town's deity being Shamash, the Sun god. It is possible that Ad-Door represents the historical Oman a of Roman historians.

Ghallah: The same team also excavated a site at Ghallah Island, also in Umm al Qaiwain, and which is approachable at low tide on foot. Some thirty graves have been excavated, dating from the first century on. The island seems to have been densely populated by fishermen and pearl divers but belonged to a lower social strata than nearby Ad-Door, probably living in barasti huts.

Dubai Bans Ivory Trade

The Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is in the news for its refusal to ratify a total ban on the trade in ivory, raising suspicions that there are kick-backs involved (London 'Observer', May 28th, 1989). Meanwhile comes the good news that with effect from 6th June, 1989, Dubai Municipality imposed a ban on the entire trade in rhino horns and elephant tusks. This follows recent press revelations of ivory carving in Sharjah. The USA also imposed a total ban on ivory imports in early June.


The diminutive annual Agriophyllum minus, family Chenopodiaceae, has reappeared in the same spot along the Sueyhan road where it was last recorded on 18th June, 1982. In May 1989 it was seen here and along the Asab road in great numbers.


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