Wildlife in the UAE
Key animals
Captive breeding of rare breeds
Whales and dolphins in the UAE
Scorpions and snakes
Ornithology in the UAE
Environmental agencies
Fossil hunting

Arabian Oryx
Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), which once roamed the entire Arabian Peninsula, became extinct as a wild species in the early 1960s. Its precise natural range within the UAE is not clear but they were probably found in and around the Liwa, as well as on the mountain plains. The largest of the Arabian antelopes, oryx are creatures of the open desert being able survive in areas without trees or standing water. Instead they rely on moisture obtained from food and can conserve water through specially adapted kidneys. The white body colour helps to deflect sunlight. However the skin underneath is dark and acts as a barrier against ultra-violet rays. Both male and female carry a pair of symmetrical horns, very slightly curved to the back. As the horns of a healthy animal are so symmetrical that they appear as one if seen in profile, it is assumed that the oryx was the origin of the legendary unicorn. The horns can grow to a length of 90 centimetres, and their sharp points are deadly weapons amongst bulls fighting for dominant position in a herd.

Oryx can calf all year round, with peaks in spring and autumn. The cow has only one young at a time. When born, it is sandy-brown in colour, which blends in superbly with its natural habitat. During the first days of its life, the oryx calf lies in a shallow scrape, relying on its camouflage to avoid predators, and only when it is able to keep up with the herd will it follow the mother throughout the day.

For images of the Arabian oryx click here

Sand Gazelle
Sand gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica), with a maximum weight 22 kilogrammes, is the second largest of the antelopes that occur in the UAE. Virtually extinct in the wild, there are occasional reports from the Liwa of small groups of these beautiful creatures. The elegantly curved horns of both males and females are considerably longer than those of other gazelles occurring in the area. The animals are very light in colour, the head completely white in older animals, with back and flanks being light beige, an obvious advantage in the open sands, which they favour. The belly is white and the dark stripe between the white underside and the beige flanks and back of the gazelle, a distinguishing feature of the mountain gazelle, is absent. Black eyes, nostril and mouth contrast with the pale body. The sand gazelle is the only antelope in this area that regularly gives birth to twins and this usually in spring and autumn. The young spend their first days in shallow scrapes, or under a small bush, until they are strong enough to move with the adults.

For images of the Sand gazelle, click here

Arabian Mountain Gazelle
The Arabian mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella cora) is found on the gravel plains, the sand deserts and in the mountains, its natural range extending right across the Emirates, except for the very soft sandy areas of the Liwa into which only the sand gazelle would venture. The mountain gazelle, weighing only 10 to 14 kilogrammes, has a delicate body, and can reach speeds of 65 kilometres per hour if it needs to escape danger. The mountain gazelle has a pure white belly with a dark to black stripe on its flanks that merges into dark beige or brown on the back, the neck and the head. Facial markings consist of various shades of brown with two white stripes extending from the eyes towards the nostrils. Females can give birth to a single fawn at any time of the year, but with natural peaks in spring and autumn. Most grazing activity takes place at dawn and dusk. Mountain gazelle rest during the hottest hours of the day under any shelter available, which may be a cave for those that inhabit the mountains. Usually moving in small groups of four to six animals, they are highly territorial, with the dominant male continuously marking its territory with a wax-like substance which it produces in glands below the eyes and deposits by rubbing its head against a bush, a branch or a stone. As with oryx and sand gazelle they do not need to drink water, but will readily do so if it is available.

For images of the Arabian mountain gazelle, click here

Arabian Tahr
In contrast to the mountain gazelle the
Arabian tahr (Hemitragus jayakari) needs to drink water every day. An agile climber, this animal is found only in the mountains, where it dwells on steep cliffs, feeding on sparse grass and shrubs growing amongst the rocks. Tahr descend regularly into the wadis to find a pool from which to drink. The secretive tahr were thought to be extinct, however in 1995 a female tahr, together with her kid, was photographed when both animals descended to drink at one of the water pools. Tahr have long reddish-brown hair, with a dark stripe down their back and short, goat-like, stubby horns. Older males sport a beard, which is absent in the younger animals. Calves are grey in colour at birth, changing to greyish-brown around the same time when the horns start to grow. The Arabian leopard was the tahr's natural enemy, but today it is the destruction of their natural habitat by feral goats, as well as poaching, that keep their numbers dangerously low.

Arabian Leopard
Unfortunately the
Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is also on the brink of extinction in the wild. At about 30 kilogrammes for the male and around 20 kilogrammes for the female, the Arabian leopard is much smaller than most of the African and Asian races. Very light in colour, the deep golden yellow between black rosettes is only present on the animal's back, whilst the rest of the body is beige to greyish-white. Leopards are not animals of the open desert and only occur in the mountains, where permanent water sources exist. In this arid terrain they require large territories in order to find enough food, which means that even at the best of times there have never been many leopards in this area. As they are solitary animals, the territory is fiercely defended against intruders. Whilst the area of a male might overlap with the territories of several females, no other animal of the same sex is allowed near what the leopard considers to be the core of its range.

A female in heat attracts a male over quite some distance and mating, which is very vocal and frequent, takes place over a period of about five days. The gestation period is about 100 days, after which time the female gives birth to between one and four cubs in a sheltered area, such as a small cave or under a rock overhang. During the first few weeks of life the female frequently moves her cubs to different hiding places. The young open their eyes after about ten days and are weaned at three months, but stay with their mother until they are about 16 months old. Although leopards do occasionally bring food to their young, they usually prefer to take the young to the kill. As their natural prey species such as the tahr and the mountain gazelle are virtually extinct, leopards often have to turn to domestic stock, mainly goats, for food. They also prey on foxes, or any other small mammal or bird and will readily eat carrion. These secretive animals hunt mainly around dawn and dusk but stay active throughout the night, while spending the hot hours of the day in a shady place that has an unobstructed view.

For images of the Arabian leopard, click here

Absent from the mountains but otherwise widespread in the United Arab Emirates is the
hare (Lepus capensis). Adapted to the harsh environment, the local hare is much smaller than its European counterpart and is therefore often mistaken for a rabbit, which does not occur in Arabia. Unlike the rabbit, the hare does not live in burrows, but spends the day motionless, with its ears folded back, relying totally on its camouflage, remaining in shallow scrapes under a bush or even in the open. The young hares, or leverets, are born fully furred with their eyes open and are able to survive without their mother from the seventh to the tenth day of their lives. The baby hares are left by the mother in separate locations, where she visits them a couple of times a night to let them suckle. The advantage of this system is that if one of them is found by a fox or another predator only that individual will be killed and not the whole litter. Should the mother vanish, then the babies are able to fend for themselves from a very early age. As with the other mammals that have adapted to the desert life, the hare does not need to drink water, obtaining enough moisture from the grasses and shrubs it eats.

For images of the Cape hare, click here

Spiny-tailed lizard
(Uromastix microlepis) The
spiny-tailed lizard or dhub can grow to a length of 65 centimetres and usually lives in loose colonies, each burrow being approximately 20 to 50 metres distance from its neighbour. Colonies can extend over large areas, depending on the availability of food. Feeding on shrubs, the spiny-tailed lizard never drinks water and has special glands that help its body to dispose of uric acid. The spiny-tailed lizard often allows other creatures, such as snakes, scorpions and hedgehogs to share its burrow. Despite its dragon-like appearance it is a very placid animal that prefers to flee rather than enter into conflict. If cornered, however, it can inflict a painful blow with its spiny tail or alternatively a nasty bite from strong jaws with sharp bony plates. The dhub used to be a welcome source of protein for the Bedouin and its tough skin was widely used.

For images of the dhub, click here

For more information on UAE reptiles

For information on other UAE mammals

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