Work together to conserve the UAE’s natural heritage and curb wildlife trade
Wildlife is the very reason that WWF exists at all, established over 50 years ago to protect endangered animals. For EWS-WWF, UAE nature conservation is still at the heart of everything we do.
From the mountains and mangroves to its desert and coastline, the UAE is home to many different ecosystems and unique wildlife. Many species thrive in the harsh conditions of the UAE, adapting fascinating features to cope with the heat and terrain. However, the fast pace of unplanned development and increased human-wildlife interactions is resulting in key habitats disappearing and the list of species of special concern is growing.
Their fragile environments are under threat from rapid growth, hunting, tourism, poaching and over-grazing by feral animals. So by working closely with partners and local communities, it’s our mission to save this marvelous array of nature.
SAFEGUARDING SPECIES AND HABITATS
Home to delicate ecosystems and endangered species, Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah is truly a treasure to the region. It is of considerable ecological significance allowing some of the rarest species found in the UAE, Arabian Peninsula and the world to survive this harsh climate.
Since 2009, 15 species of mammals have been confirmed in the wadi, through sightings, camera traps, and markings. Of those recorded, 60% are of international or national concern, including flagship species such as the Caracal, Blanford’s Fox and Brandt’s Hedgehog. In addition, the National Park is a hotspot for birds with 109 species recorded. It is also home to at least 25 of the 29 species of Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) recorded in the UAE.
Besides the vast mountain areas, the UAE has a long coastline that is home to precious wildlife and habitats. For example, two out of the seven species of sea turtles exist in the Gulf waters: the Green turtle and the Hawksbill turtle.
The global population of sea turtles is in decline, due mainly to increased coastal development, urbanisation and industrialisation. Worldwide, the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2008) lists the Green turtle as critically endangered and the Hawksbill turtle as endangered. So measures are urgently needed to safeguard the few remaining turtle nesting, feeding and breeding sites on our beaches and at sea – as well as their migratory pathways.
CURBING WILDLIFE TRADE
The UAE is located between East and West which makes it an ideal hub for wildlife traffickers. This illegal trade poses a massive threat to the survival of the world’s most iconic species. In the last few years, the unprecedented surge in poaching has caused a rapid decline in global biodiversity, fueled political and economic instability, and threatened the livelihoods of communities.
Countries all over the world are making a collective effort to tackle the issue – and the UAE has a particularly important role to play. It’s a major market for endangered exotic pets, and an increasingly prominent transit point in the supply chain for wildlife products, most notably ivory.
However, this means we have a big opportunity. With strong action on detection and law enforcement, we can play a major role in saving some of the planet’s most important species.
Worldwide the tide is turning against the traffickers – actions are replacing words and it is now defined as a ‘serious crime’. EWS-WWF, its NGO partners, UAE customs and airlines are also putting ambitious plans in practice.
Without urgent action to combat the illegal wildlife trade, creatures such as elephants, rhinos and tigers could become extinct. But we can help make sure this doesn’t happen.
We have all inherited an amazing country supporting all kinds of creatures, from endangered mammals to dragonflies and fish. Do we want to be the ones who let this slip away? Or do we want to be the ones who protected it for future generations? With sustainability a theme for Dubai Expo 2020, the UAE has a great opportunity to showcase its stance on preserving the natural world.
Ensuring the survival of natural territories can enhance people’s livelihoods – especially with the increase in global eco-tourism. What’s more, enjoying nature enriches everyone’s lives physically, spiritually and even culturally. For example, conservation efforts often result in the protection of archaeology – such as those found in Wadi Wurayah dating as far back as 300 BC.
In Africa, poachers kill one elephant every 15 minutes to satisfy the global demand for ivory ornaments. As a result, Africa’s elephant population has crashed by an estimated 111,000 in the past decade. Cheetahs are often killed when their cubs are taken to be sold as pets. This trade not only destroys wildlife but also endangers local communities.
The UAE’s importance to wildlife extends far beyond our own borders. As a large market for the illegal wildlife trade and a major transit point for global trafficking, we have a unique opportunity. Through awareness campaigns we can reach millions of people. With strong action on smuggling, we can set an example to the region and affirm our place on the global stage as a progressive, conservation-minded nation.
Our goal is clear: to help save wildlife and habitats, both locally and globally. Locally this means protecting the environments that the animals rely on. Globally, it means both helping disrupt the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade and reducing home-grown demand for CITES-listed pets.
PROTECTING NATURE'S HOME
Protected Area Networks (PANs) will be key to saving wildlife across the whole country. To start with, we need data about the lives, threats and needs of vulnerable species from coast to mountain. EWS-WWF is supporting the government in gathering this data and creating a central database.
For PANs to exist, it also requires the right national policy and legislative framework. We’re helping the government build this as part of a holistic approach, informing land use planners and coordinating the most effective areas.
Once they exist, PANs need to be properly restored and managed. EWS-WWF has played a critical role at Wadi Wurayah, the country’s first national park. Our pioneering partnership with Fujairah Municipality is in the process of building on the management and business plan developed earlier in the partnership along with developing a dedicated staff and integrated education and ecotourism. Natural resources, such as water, are carefully monitored. What’s more, research is being done to understand medium to long-term threats.
DISRUPTING THE WILDLIFE TRADE
Our ambition is to help the country become a global leader in solutions for disrupting the supply chain of illegal wildlife. Globally there’s been a turning point. For the first time ever, the United Nations drafted a dedicated resolution for wildlife crime in 2015. And the Doha Declaration officially classed wildlife trafficking as a ‘serious crime’.
Proof of this momentum is a surge in conferences and workshops – and EWS-WWF is building on this in the UAE. Since 2013, we’ve been working closely with CITES authorities and local stakeholders to fully understand illegal wildlife trade in the UAE. This research has been instrumental in the government’s policy and we’ll continue to play a leading role on emerging issues.
Working locally, collaborating globally
Due to the trade’s international, rapidly changing nature, it’s critical to stay up to date on threatened species, routes, smuggling techniques and responses. EWS-WWF can capitalise on global resources and unique expertise. And we have a clear strategy, closely aligned to the international Wildlife Crime Initiative – a collaboration between WWF International and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
Our three key areas of focus:
1. Supporting customs officers in the battle against wildlife crime – helping to build detection skills and training special CITES units (in partnership with local NGOs and CITES authorities).
2. Supporting UAE-registered airlines to disrupt supply chains – such as our training workshops to enhance the knowledge and capabilities of their staff.
3. Supporting awareness campaigns – working with local and international partners to drive awareness about buying illegal exotic pets and illegal wildlife products. We’ll also create awareness materials for airline passengers to drive down global demand, and capitalise on the popularity of UAE airports, to educate millions of passengers a year.