UAE con­ser­va­tion­ists play key role on global stage

The National - News - - OPINION - PETER HEL­LYER Peter Hel­lyer is a con­sul­tant spe­cial­is­ing in the UAE’s his­tory and cul­ture

Ear­lier this month, a gath­er­ing in Abu Dhabi of the world’s elite in their field went un­der the radar of most res­i­dents in the UAE. At the four-day con­fer­ence, spon­sored by the En­vi­ron­ment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), more than 350 spe­cial­ists in the con­ser­va­tion of the world’s en­dan­gered plants and wildlife gath­ered to dis­cuss chal­lenges in the strug­gle to pre­serve global bio­di­ver­sity.

The event brought to­gether mem­bers of the Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion, a group of more than 8,000 expert vol­un­teers from around the world, who come un­der the um­brella of the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN), the body that is­sues a “red list” of en­dan­gered species. So far, more than 105,000 species have been as­sessed, with a tar­get of 160,000 set for the end of next year.

This red list clas­si­fies species on the ba­sis of the fol­low­ing cat­e­gories: not eval­u­ated, data de­fi­cient, least con­cern, near-threat­ened, vul­ner­a­ble, en­dan­gered, crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, ex­tinct in the wild and ex­tinct. Through reg­u­lar re-eval­u­a­tion, in­di­vid­ual species can then move from one cat­e­gory to another. Oc­ca­sion­ally, their sta­tus can im­prove. The risk sta­tus of the scim­i­tar-horned oryx, for ex­am­ple, na­tive to the Sa­hel re­gion of Africa, might shortly be down­graded from ex­tinct in the wild to crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, thanks to the suc­cess of a rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme or­gan­ised by EAD in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a num­ber of other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

For the most part, how­ever, the trend is down­wards. More than 28,000 species as­sessed so far are thought to be threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion, in­clud­ing, re­mark­ably, more than half the na­tive trees of Europe. Only 14 Amer­i­can red wolves are be­lieved to sur­vive in the wild.

But I don’t want to fo­cus on threats to the world’s bio­di­ver­sity; that is a never-end­ing con­ver­sa­tion. In­stead, it is worth fo­cus­ing on ways in which the UAE’s con­ser­va­tion bod­ies such as the EAD are now play­ing an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role on a global scale.

Their good work in the coun­try is recog­nised by those in con­ser­va­tion­ist cir­cles, al­though they could do with get­ting at­ten­tion on a wider plat­form. Shar­jah’s En­vi­ron­ment and Pro­tected Ar­eas Au­thor­ity, for ex­am­ple, is plan­ning to in­tro­duce fines of up to AED50,000 for those dump­ing waste in what it de­scribes as “wilder­ness” ar­eas. I look for­ward to read­ing about the first cul­prits be­ing caught.

In Abu Dhabi, the EAD has just an­nounced the dis­cov­ery of two new species of wasp, one at Al Wathba na­ture re­serve and the other in Fu­jairah’s Wadi Maidaq, while a new species of mam­mal for the UAE is thought to have been found in the Al Dhafra re­gion – fur­ther ev­i­dence that there is still much to be dis­cov­ered about the coun­try’s bio­di­ver­sity.

Here in the Emi­rates, how­ever, we hear lit­tle about what our en­vi­ron­men­tal and con­ser­va­tion bod­ies do overseas. Be­sides the scim­i­tar-horned oryx rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme in Chad, the EAD has also been ac­tive in Cen­tral Asia and Mon­go­lia. Its global foot­print is also strength­ened by its sup­port for the In­ter­na­tional Fund for Houbara Con­ser­va­tion based in Abu Dhabi, while it also con­trib­utes to the in­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion on Mi­gra­tory Species with its work on mi­gra­tory birds of prey and dugongs.

Last week’s IUCN meet­ing was the sec­ond such meet­ing spon­sored by the EAD and fol­lowed an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on houbara con­ser­va­tion last year.

It is not just through the EAD, though, that the UAE’s out­reach on con­ser­va­tion is­sues can be seen. The Mo­hamed bin Zayed Species Con­ser­va­tion Fund, which has been oper­at­ing for more than a decade, has given more than 2,000 grants to re­search and con­ser­va­tion projects in 170 coun­tries, in­volv­ing more than 1,340 species or sub­species of a wide range of plants and an­i­mals. Many of these projects also re­ceive sup­port from other grant-giv­ing bod­ies, help­ing to con­sol­i­date the fund’s in­ter­na­tional

Their good work in the coun­try is recog­nised by con­ser­va­tion­ist cir­cles but they could do with a wider plat­form

net­work. Its lat­est round of grants last month, to­talling about $500,000, went to 59 projects in Europe, Africa, Asia, Ocea­nia and North and South Amer­ica, bring­ing the to­tal dis­trib­uted to date to more than $19 mil­lion.

A new Mo­hamed bin Zayed Rap­tor Con­ser­va­tion Fund, es­tab­lished last year, is now pre­par­ing a pro­gramme that will fo­cus on tack­ling the global threat to birds of prey posed by elec­tric power lines. Pi­lot stud­ies in Mon­go­lia have shown power lines kill hun­dreds of birds a year.

Repli­cat­ing the EAD pat­tern of en­gag­ing not only at home but overseas, the Emi­rates Fal­con­ers’ Club has also be­come a lead­ing par­tic­i­pant in the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fal­conry and Con­ser­va­tion of Birds of Prey (IAF), with the club’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ma­jid Al Man­souri cur­rently serv­ing as the IAF’s pres­i­dent.

This is just a sam­ple of the in­ter­na­tional work of our UAE con­ser­va­tion bod­ies. As I found dur­ing this month’s con­fer­ence, it is not sur­pris­ing that that they have a good rep­u­ta­tion glob­ally. It is time that their con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional stand­ing was more widely known at home.

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