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Flora & Fauna in Abu Dhabi


The parched, vast stretches of desert and little rainfall in the emirate do not preclude thriving species of plants and animals. The emirate hosts about 3,500 endemic plants, which are highly adaptable to the extreme salinity of the soil and the harsh environment.

The most common and widely cultivated indigenous flora in the emirate and across the whole country is the date palm, which can be found daintily lining up the city streets, providing impressive highlights to palace gardens, or creating a sea of green leaves in the wild oases.

A slew of salt-resistant plants, which botanists call halophytes, belie the seemingly dull deserts of Abu Dhabi. These include the salsola imbricate, zygophyllum mandavillei and tamarix. Grasses like panicum turgidum, pannisetum divisum and haloxylon salicornicum also grow in various stretches of the desert.

To complement natural vegetation in the city, the government has been working, with very impressive results, to keep Abu Dhabi city green for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Landscaped gardens keep the sand from blowing across the road or in any other direction particularly during bad weather, and at the same time provide a verdant, calm environment for residents. The landscaped parks and gardens likewise encourage faunas like birds to migrate and breed, hence, enhancing the city’s ecological system.

Furthermore the desert – with its little or no supply of water – is home to a wide range of animals which are biologically designed to survive for long periods of time with little or no water and amid extremely harsh weather conditions. Most of these animals have also instinctively acquired strategies to adapt to their environment by burrowing or spending long periods resting in holes well below the surface, while others move rapidly beneath the surface of uncompacted sand.


The desert wild, however, has been friendlier to a certain group of animals than others. Reptiles, observers say, are the dominant animal group in the desert; various breed of lizards are commonly sighted including the delicate geckos, the more robust dhubs or spiny-tailed lizards together with the giant of desert lizards, the monitor, which could grow up to a metre in length. Several species of snakes likewise exist in the desert including the poisonous horned viper.


Lacking skills to burrow or hibernate (aestivate), birds migrate to more tolerable zones to survive. Admittedly there are less bird species found in Abu Dhabi’s desert compared to more tropical domiciles like Asia or Africa. Several bird species that are known to be desert adaptable are the hoopoe lark, the cream-coloured courser and the black-crowned finch lark. Buzzards and desert eagle owls are also known to maintain small breeding populations in the desert, so are brown-necked ravens.


Several species of animals have suffered extinction in the desert over the last decades. These include the wolf, oryx, striped hyaena and jackal. Fortunately, two species of gazelle still survive – the sand and mountain gazelle. The Western region of the Abu Dhabi emirate is also known to host some of the most shy if not nocturnal species that could be found in the desert such as the sand cat, Rueppell’s fox, cape hare and even the jerboa and several species of the hedgehog. There are still rare sightings of the Arabian leopard and the ibex, which are both highly endangered. Outside of these endangered or nocturnal-shy mammals, the most common fauna in Abu Dhabi are camels and goats, which could be found grazing wantonly close to the roads in the desert.


The UAE’s waters are known to have just below 240 fish species. Reports further indicate that four globally endangered species of shark – including the whale shark - are found in the waters of Abu Dhabi. Less than 3,000 dugongs (sea cow) are also present in the country’s sea waters, with anecdotal evidence indicating that this species could be breeding quite healthily. Two critically endangered sea turtles – the hawksbill turtle and green turtle – are found in Abu Dhabi, with an estimated summer population of around 7,500 for the two species combined. Whale sightings are also not uncommon in Abu Dhabi’s waters.




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