An endangered species is a species of animal or plant that is seriously at risk of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization funded by the European Commission, is regarded as a global authority on the world’s living species and maintains a list of the world’s endangered species. More than 8,000 scientists from 162 countries make up the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, which designates as “threatened” any species falling within the critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable categories. These species are assigned categories based on the level of extinction risk. Identifying a species as threatened and assigning it to one of the related categories is a complicated process, involving the analysis of multiple interconnected variables. These include population size, geographic range, and the number of breeding adults.
There are a variety of factors that put these plants and animals at risk. Most species placed on endangered lists have very small populations with a small number of breeding adults. In addition to being a problem in its own right, this can lead to a loss of genetic variation among species, since small populations of animals are forced to inbreed. The young are subsequently left vulnerable to disease and often fail to reach maturity.
Habitat can also be a risk factor. From the clear-cutting of the Amazon rainforest for the purpose of grazing cattle to overhunting and overfishing, living species are under increasing strain in the modern world. When humans build homes, office buildings, and fun parks, preserving space for plants and animals is frequently not a priority. Loss of habitat creates a ripple effect, with animals often deprived of shelter and primary food sources that end up placing them in a vulnerable state.
A plant or animal's range is a function of its habitat and is also used to assess a population's survival risks.
Finally, environmental factors such as pollution, a changing global climate, and increasingly extreme weather events are other factors placing a strain on the world’s plants and animals. Before a plant or animal is considered endangered, these factors are taken into consideration. Awareness of the problem leads to a search for solutions—and some measures are being enacted—although current trends suggest that the number of endangered species will only increase as time goes on.
The United Arab Emirates' Threatened Species
Note: Numbers reflect current estimates and may vary by source.
Top Three Endangered Mammals of the UAE
The Arabian oryx is a species of antelope known for its striking appearance, with long, straight horns and a white coat with black markings. It lives in arid desert habitats and is well-adapted to life in this harsh environment, with a thick coat for insulation and the ability to go for long periods without water. The Arabian oryx is a herbivore that feeds on a variety of plants, including grasses, leaves, and shoots. It is active both during the day and at night, and typically forms herds led by a dominant female. Known for its agility and speed, this species has strong social bonds and displays behaviors such as grooming, play, and territorial marking.
This species is endangered due to habitat loss and fragmentation as well as overhunting. Historically, the Arabian oryx was hunted for its horns, which were prized for their beauty and cultural significance, leading to significant declines in population numbers. Despite protective measures being put in place, illegal hunting continues to be a threat to the species. In addition, the Arabian oryx faces a number of other challenges, including loss and degradation of habitat, which results from human activities such as urbanization and the expansion of agricultural lands. Climate change also poses a threat to the species, with rising temperatures and increased water scarcity affecting its ability to find food and water in its desert habitat. Conservation efforts have been implemented, including the establishment of protected areas and reintroduction programs, but much work remains to be done to secure the future of this iconic species.
Sand Cat (aka Desert Cat, Sand Dune Cat)
The sand cat, also known as the desert cat or sand dune cat, is a small wild cat native to the deserts of northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and central and southwest Asia. They have a sandy-gray coat that is well-suited to their desert habitat. Sand cats are nocturnal animals and spend most of their time hiding in burrows or rocky outcroppings during the day. They are opportunistic feeders and eat a variety of prey, including small mammals, reptiles, and insects.
This wild cat species is endangered because of habitat destruction, poaching, and human activities. The main threat for sand cats is the expansion of industrial and agricultural activities in their habitats. Due to their elusive nature and the harsh conditions of their habitat, little is known about the sand cat's behavior or population size in the wild. However, conservation efforts are under way to protect the species such as captive breeding and habitat restoration projects.
Dugong (aka Sea Cow)
The dugong is a large marine mammal found in warm coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, including the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia. They have a thick, grayish-brown skin, rounded tail fluke, two front flippers, and large, flexible upper lip used for feeding. They live in shallow waters near sea grass beds, which are their primary food source. They have a tough, bristly tongue and two large upper incisors, which they use to grip and cut their food. Dugongs are generally solitary animals, although they may form small groups during feeding. They are slow-moving and peaceful, spending most of their time grazing on sea grasses. They are strong swimmers but are known to "float" at the surface, resting and digesting their food. Despite their peaceful demeanor, dugongs can become aggressive when threatened and may use their tail fluke or powerful jaws to defend themselves.
Dugongs are endangered due to a number of factors, including habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and fishing-related mortality. Habitat destruction and degradation from human activities such as coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and climate change threaten their numbers. Dugongs are hunted for their meat and oil, which are highly valued in some cultures, and as a result, populations have declined in many parts of their range. In addition, accidental entanglement in fishing gear and the destruction of seagrass beds, which are the dugongs' primary food source, have contributed to their decline. Conservation efforts, including protected areas and regulations on hunting, have been implemented to help protect the species, but continued efforts are needed.
Other Endangered Mammals of the UAE
Additional endangered mammals found in the UAE include the Arabian gazelle, goitered gazelle, black finless porpoise, and Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin. Habitat degradation and loss are considered major threats to the country's gazelle populations as their ecosystems are being converted by human activities such as agricultural and industrial expansion as well as urbanization. One of the last freshwater species of porpoise left on Earth, the black finless porpoise is endangered due to vessel strikes and unintended catches by unregulated fishing as well as habitat degradation through dredging, pollution, noise, and development. The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is threatened by habitat loss, water pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and an increase in marine traffic within its range.
|The following sections describe the three groups (aside from mammals) with the largest numbers of endangered species according to the table above.|
Endangered Invertebrates of the UAE
Among the endangered invertebrates of the UAE are the powder blue damsel and Hajar Wadi damsel as well as many types of coral, including turbinaria coral, starry cup coral, and moon coral. Insects, such as damsels, are threatened by deforestation, agricultural spread, water extraction, mining, and human migration which have either destroyed the only habitats the species can survive in or driven the species to a severely fragmented habitat. Corals are extremely vulnerable to climate change because it is causing increased water temperatures and acidification. Sedimentation as well as human activities, including pollution and unethical fishing practices, also are threatening corals.
Endangered Birds of the UAE
The list of endangered birds found in the UAE consists of a variety of species including three types of falcons: the sooty falcon, Eurasian peregrine falcon, and saker falcon. With falconry being one of the UAE's most honored traditional sports, these predatory birds are worth a lot of money; therefore, the illegal trade of falcons is a common threat. Two types of vultures also made the endangered list, the Egyptian vulture and lappet-faced vulture. A factor affecting the numbers of both falcons and vultures is the widespread use of certain pesticides, particularly DDT.
Endangered Fish of the UAE
A variety of Yemen's fish species are considered endangered. These include many types of sharks, such as the fossil shark, whitecheek shark, tawny nurse shark, zebra shark, whale shark, and hammerhead shark. Sharks are becoming increasingly endangered due to numerous threats from human activities such as overfishing and illegal fishing, which are often done for their fins to make the delicacy known as shark fin soup. Additionally, warming seas, acidification, rising sea levels, and other long-term shifts in the environment caused by climate change are negatively impacting shark populations.
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