On 9th May, 1990, the UAE rejoined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This follows the country’s stand against the ivory trade last year, when warehouses and back-street ivory carving shops in Dubai and Sharjah were closed down. The UAE now returns as the 106th member of CITES, an organization that at government levels outlaws the trade in endangered species. The country will now receive assistance in evaluating present regulations and making concrete proposals for new laws for the protection of such species. In addition, some UAE graduates will be sent for specific training at CITES institutes abroad and, on return, will be employed at Customs posts throughout the country to check on international trade in plant and animal species, alive or dead. This is a most important step since, in the end, the protection of the UAE’s wildlife and habitats can only be meaningful if the national population at all levels is aware of the richness of its own environment. After all, the UAE is a small country, about the size of Scotland, and over the past two decades or so a relatively liberal market economy has wrought widespread damage on the local landscape. While so far this has been to the general benefit of the human population, it has been so to a large extent at the expense of the environment and its wildlife. As habitants become ever more squeezed in area, so it is inevitable that the more fragile plant and animal species also run the risk of being squeezed out. It already seems likely that the tiny relict population of Arabian Tahr on Jebel Hafit is extinct. If so, the prime causes were in all probability the construction work and human activity at the north end, plus disturbance by tourists and others who have climbed the mountain in recent years. Members of the ENHG may themselves have unwittingly contributed to the demise of the only herd of Tahr in the UAE.
As the countryside is increasingly exploited, however, so more areas become accessible for exploration and surveys. If some of the islands along the Abu Dhabi coastline had not been developed, the chances of Group members visiting and confirming the presence of breeding Crab Plovers would probably not have happened. Even on industrialized Das Island, there is the chance to monitor a colony of White-cheeked Terns breeding each summer. There are attempts to return gazelle into the wild and plans for a breeding center for the Houbara Bustard. There is evidence of an increase in the Hare population in some plantation and farm areas. The UAE is witnessing a pattern observed elsewhere, that there are winners and losers in the wildlife stakes. Membership of CITES will at least help to focus attention on the losers. After observation and status recording, the ENHG’s main task must continue to be to publicize the richness of, and the threats to, UAE wildlife in all its diversity.