Species of the UAE | WWF

Species of the UAE

Arabian gazelle (Gazella arabica)
© Hartmut Jungius / WWF

A mix of Asian and African species

A large number of species found in the Arabian Peninsula, are also found in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite the country's small size. Most species origin from Asia or Africa.


The hot and dry climate of the UAE can lead people to believe that not many animals choose to live and breed in this region. The fact is that quite a number of species thrive in the desert and the mountain areas of the UAE. Species have adapted well with features such as the sandcat's furry paws, preventing it from burning and sinking in the hot soft sand, and the oryx' ability to go without water for weeks.

While heat and lack of water are no serious obstacles to these animals, the fast pace of unplanned development is. Key habitats of many species are being reduced, if not destroyed, and the list of species that are of special concern is growing. Among these are Arabian tahr (Hemitragus jayakari) and Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr).
	© Hartmut Jungius / WWF
Arabian tahr (Hemitragus jayakari), Jebel Akhdar, Oman.
© Hartmut Jungius / WWF


The marine life of the UAE is rich in fish, plants, and corals. Over 500 different species of fish alone inhabit the Gulf waters, with many more existing in the Indian Ocean. The Arabian Gulf is blessed with large populations of dugongs (Dugong dugon), dolphins (8 species) and marine turtles.

The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the most common and feeds on the extensive sea grass beds found in shallow waters. Both green and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles are known to nest on the beaches of UAE's main coast and islands.

Coral reefs and mangrove creeks are habitats for many marine creatures. These areas are important fish breeding grounds and feeding areas plus they also protect the shores from coastal erosion. Damage to and destruction of these areas is caused by coastal developments, fishing nets, anchors, plus ignorant divers. Coral reefs are sensitive, and if not killed by above factors, they take decades to re-grow.
	© Emma Smart
Garra Smarti, new species of wadi fish discovered in Oman by Emma Smart
© Emma Smart


Most of the 400 bird species, seen in the UAE are visitors and stop here on their yearly jouney of migration. Of these, 90 species are known to be breeding here, with the islands being important breeding sites for a large variety.

Qarnein Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi for instance, holds breeding populations of sooty gull (Larus hemprichii), white-cheeked tern (Sterna repressa), bridled tern (Sterna anaethetus) and lesser crested tern (Sterna bengalensis). On 5 February 2003, WWF International acknowledged Qarnein Island Marine Protected Area as a 'Gift to the Earth.'
Lesser Crested Terns