The Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), has confirmed its recent discovery of a previously unsighted owl species in the UAE, the Arabian Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus milesi), among the rich wildlife currently inhabiting the Hajar Mountains in the Eastern Region.
Discovered during an owl survey conducted by Anthony Stoquert, a scientist from EWS-WWF’s Terrestrial Conservation Programme, with the support of Sami Majeed, a Wadi Wurayah National Park ranger from Fujairah Municipality, the sighting of the Arabian Eagle Owl is particularly significant, as it highlights the need for more in-depth research and studies on the UAE’s rich biodiversity.
Commenting on the discovery, Jacky Judas, Manager and Scientific Advisor – Terrestrial Biodiversity, EWS-WWF, stated, "This recent finding has been quite exciting for the EWS team, as it is undoubtedly just one of many undiscovered species that call the UAE home. In spite of a hot and arid climate, a wide variety of resilient and fascinating species, thrive in our deserts and mountain areas not only species resident in the Arabian Peninsula, but also wintering or migrant species on their way between Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, the rapid pace of development has become a major threat to many of these creatures. Thus, it is crucial now more than ever that we ramp up collective efforts to protect and safeguard key habitats and endangered species, all of which constitute the UAE’s rich natural heritage."
He continued, "If a large bird, 45cm in height, weighing 600 to 800g even if nocturnal and elusive, went unnoticed up to the beginning of the 21st century, what about much smaller species of animals and plants, or under-surveyed taxonomic groups? We have very little doubt that so much more is still to be found in the Hajar Mountains."
In 2015, the discovery of a single singing individual of Omani Owl in Wadi Wurayah National Park, inspired EWS-WWF to organise a more comprehensive owl survey in the Hajar Mountains of the UAE and Oman with an aim to better understand the status of owls in the area. Funded by the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the owl survey is part of a wider biodiversity survey of the Hajar Mountains also initiated by EWS-WWF, which intends to gather information on the many species living in the mountains, including their status, distribution and abundance. The ultimate goal of the research is to contribute to the creation of a network of Protected Areas, focusing on biodiversity hotspots, which are areas with the greatest number of species, or that shelter species of higher conservation concerns (rare, threatened or endemic species).
The Arabian Eagle Owl typically inhabits different parts of Dhofar, Oman, but few scattered records also attest its presence in the Hajar Mountains of Oman. It is also found in Yemen and in the Asir Mountains of Saudi Arabia, along the Red Sea coast. A subspecies of the widespread Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus) which ranges from Kenya and Uganda to South Africa, the Arabian Eagle Owl tends to live in open woodland, rocky hillsides with scattered thorny shrubs. Its diet in Africa is composed of large insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles. Very little is known, however, on its ecology and behavior in the Arabian Peninsula, reinforcing the need for continued research on owl species in the region.
EWS-WWF’s Terrestrial Conservation Programme focuses on safeguarding land-based ecosystems, such as wetlands, mountains, and desert shrub lands, and species, by working with key players to secure its long-term vision of a nationwide protected area network that ensures environmental connectivity.