mAMMALS

 

Blanford's fox Distribution | Camera Trapping | Arabian tahr Distribution

 Wildcat Radio Tracking

 

Researcher and vehicleField Research is conducted at a number of different sites throughout the Emirate of Sharjah. The research includes population surveys in the Shimayliyah Mountains and the Rus al Jibal as well as Radio Tracking of Gordon's Wildcat in the desert outside the Breeding Centre.
Research that takes place in the mountains and wadis of the Northern Emirates includes population surveys of animals, particularly carnivores. This is done by using infrared camera traps as well as live trapping. Carnivores caught in traps include Blanford's fox, Vulpes cana, Gordon's wildcat, Felis silvestris gordonii and White-tailed mongoose, Ichneumia albicauda. Animals recorded on film by the camera traps include Arabian caracal, Caracal caracal schmitzi, Blanford's fox, Vulpes cana and Arabian Tahr, Hemitragus jayakari
The radio telemetry tracking of Gordon's wildcat, Felis silvestris, is done by using a 4x4 vehicle especially kitted out for this, and on foot. The aim of the work is to determine the home range of the cat as well as feeding, ground cover and shelter preferences. As these cats are nocturnal, the tracking is carried out at night with follow-up work being done during daylight hours.

 

Blanford's fox Distribution

Blanford's fox caught by camera trap.Blanford’s fox, Vulpes cana, is a small attractive canid. Its appeal is due to its large bushy tail and small slender body shape. Its mass is between 0.9 and 1.5 kg, thus it is the second smallest of all fox-like canids. The sharply pointed muzzle has a distinctive black stripe extending from the eye to the top lip. Its coat is soft and luxurious and is used by Asians in the fur trade. The pelage colour is variable, usually a rusty brown with grey undercoat and streaked in black guard hairs. In some areas of its range it may be dark, almost black, or light brown in colour. The belly and throat are a light creamy white. It lacks the bold colouring of the Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) with which it coexists. The tail often has a black tip and less frequently a white tip. There is a distinct, black, mid-dorsal band extending from the nape of the neck along the body and tail. The large ears are sparsely covered and are uniformly dark brown in colour. These foxes are thought to be quite rare. However, because of the inhospitable habitat in which they occur, little is known about them. Certainly in Arabia very little research has been done. They are, however, recognised in the United Arab Emirates as being locally common within their range.

Blanford’s fox carries a CITES Appendix II classification and is recognised by IUCN as Vulnerable due to there being small population sizes as well as a deficiency in data. It is threatened by loss of habitat, disease and interspecific competition from Vulpes vulpes.

Natural History

Blanford’s foxes are strictly monogamous with territories that marginally overlap with those of adjacent pairs. They are solitary foragers, and males and females will often use separate areas of their range to obtain food.Their breeding season extends from January to February but breeding in captivity has been seen as late as April. The gestation is 50–60 days and litters of one to three pups are produced. These pups feed exclusively on milk until they are weaned at two months of age. After which they accompany their parents on foraging trips. At four months old they start foraging alone in the territory. No food is taken back to the den by either parent and this may contribute to their distinctive lack of odour. Range size is small, different pairs have ranges varying between 0.5 and 2 km2. They spend most of their time in the dry gravel riverbed, where they will feed on dead animals, invertebrates and fruit from trees.


Their diet tends to be more frugivorous than any other canids. Gravel scree on the mountain slopes was also important in their habitat use as this is where their dens are located. They cannot dig their own dens and therefore make use of natural crevices and caves. The male and female will use adjacent dens when rearing young, or separate dens throughout the rest of the year.
The life span of these foxes is estimated to be four to five years. Death may be caused by old age or disease such as rabies. These animals do fall prey to predators such as red foxes. Unsubstantiated evidence indicates that Blanford’s foxes are be killed by leopards (Panthera pardus), Eagle owls (Bubo bubo) and Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).

Distribution

Blanford's fox caught by camera trap.In Arabia, Blanford's foxes are restricted to the mountains of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and United Arab Emirates. They are excluded from other areas by interspecific competition with the Red foxes. They occur at altitudes of 2000m and may be found in suitable habitat at sea level. They are also known to occur in Egypt, Middle East and through Western Asia. Until recently they where only described from countries such as Northern Iran, Afghanistan, north-western Pakistan and southern Turkmenia.

Camera Trapping

Remote Camera Trapping using equipment as pictured below, has been used on numerous occasions and is currently used on an ongoing basis in order to survey areas that are otherwise difficult to get to. 

Trailmaster 1500The equipment consists of a 35mm auto focus camera , infra-red transmitter and a receiver/data logger. The transmitter sends out an infra-red beam which is picked up by the receiver. Once this beam is broken, the receiver records the date, time and number of times the beam is broken and then sends a signal, via a cable, to the camera which then takes a photo. The cameras are checked on a regular basis and moved to various locations as required. 

The following images have all been taken using camera traps at various localities throughout the Northern Emirates - both in the desert and in the mountains and wadis. 
  
Caracal caught in camera trap.The caracal, Caracal caracal schmidtii, on the right was photographed using the same remote camera trap set-up as for Blanford's fox. The camera was again set up in one of the wadis found in the Northern Emirates. The caracal is becoming increasingly rare in the Emirates, in part due to hunting by local farmers that blame it for the death of their livestock.

Arabian tahr caught by the camera trap.This photograph of a Tahr, Hemitragus jayakari, was taken during the day, again in one of the wadis found in the Northern Emirates. The Tahr is very rarely seen and the numbers remaining and distribution of this animal are unknown. Many of the known Tahr are to be found in Oman. It's excellent camouflage makes it very difficult to see against a mountainous background, particularly when it is standing still.

 

Arabian tahr Distribution

Magnified image of wild Arabian tahrThe endemic Arabian Tahr, Hemitragus jayakari, is endangered and may well become extinct in the United Arab Emirates in the near future. Thus, research into this rare ungulate is essential. Many people believe that the Arabian Tahr is already extinct in the UAE. This is due to them rarely being observed. In actual fact, the first documented sighting of them in the UAE was in 1949 on Jebel Hafit and in 1995 in the Shumayliyah range. Since then they have rarely been sighted. In May 2000 specimens were again spotted on Jebel Hafit (Xavier Eichaker) and in the Shumayliyah Mountains (Mike Smith). Photographic records of these sightings have been made.

Attempts are now being made to determine how many animals still exist in the UAE as an accurate estimate has never been made. Though these animals are high in number in Oman, it seems that in the Northern edges of their range the number of individuals decreases significantly. The exact reasons for this are unknown. However, competition for grazing and hunting pressure are restricting the growth in population. These two issues are the most pertinent, if there is any hope of saving the Tahr in the UAE.

It is only through investigating the distribution of Arabian Tahr that measurements can be taken of habitat requirements. With this type of research we aim to be able to predict where Tahr will occur. This type of information can then be used to answer questions regarding the presence or absence of Tahr in specific habitats. We can then formulate proposals for the management of Tahr populations and their habitat. So far, Tahr populations seem very localised and may be isolated from each other entirely. This spells disaster for the Tahr in the UAE. When populations are as isolated as this, depreciation in genetic variation occurs within the population. Consequences of this are an increased susceptibility to disease and a decrease in fecundity. Both of these factors can rapidly lead to the extinction of the Tahr populations.

Investigating the movement or migration of Tahr between populations will enable us to get an idea of how isolated they are genetically. From these estimates the degree of inbreeding can be made and we can then propose and implement further management decisions. However, this research requires the repeated recognition of individuals from various habitats. As Tahr are so rarely seen and individual characteristics are not easy to identify, this may be impossible. Expensive and sophisticated equipment such as satellite tracking collars can be used to obtain more detailed information from which the same management decisions can be made. It is hoped that we can embark on this next phase of this research in the near future.

 

Wildcat Radio Tracking

Wildcat with radio collar.Between December 1998 and March 2001 the Research Department radio tracked a female Gordon's wildcat, Felis silvestris gordonii, whom we have named Sheba. She was trapped on 28/11/1999 and brought to the Breeding Centre, where she was then measured, weighed and photographed. A special radio-transmitting collar, brought in from Germany was then put on her and she was released back into the desert on the 5/12/1999. Since then she has been tracked on a nightly basis in order to find out more about where she goes and what she does. A number of interesting points have been discovered during our time with Sheba, some of these being, her home range size, her nightly movement over different seasons and habitat use.

Early morning shift.Initially Sheba was very nervous and did not like it when she heard the car approaching, even though the car would stop at least 50m away, but once she realised that nothing was harming her, she calmed down and would stop running off whenever the car came over the dunes. By the end of the first month she was carrying on as if nothing had happened. This was perfect since it then enabled us to obtain unbiased data.
The cat is tracked from dusk till dawn or to put it better, from her dens site in the evening to her den site in the morning, whether this be the same one or a different one.
 

A typical night of tracking would go as follows:

Sheba would leave her den hole after making sure that there is no danger lurking around the site. She would then proceed to groom and wash herself. Once the last daylight hours have faded she would then move of to begin her nightly hunting as well as patrolling of her range. Overall distance travelled as well as distance between stopping stages varied nightly. Stopping stages are classified as those areas where Sheba stopped to rest or hunt. At each stage a GPS fix is taken along with dune and vegetation height. Also noted down are observations on what the cat is doing at each stage. Towards the end of the night Sheba would either begin to move back towards the den from the night before or towards the closest den to her position. In summer when the temperature is hot, Sheba will stay in the den entrance for a while before going to sleep, but in winter, when it is cold then she goes straight into her den without hanging around in the entrance.

Dune HazardsTracking of a wildcat is of course not as easy as it may sound and many a night has been disturbed by cursing sounds as once again the tracker has managed to get the car stuck in some really nasty dunes. Digging your way through 2-3 metres of sand doesn't make nightshift any easier to cope with and many a morning has been spent walking back to fetch help from the staff at the centre in order to dig the car out. Other problems include things such as equipment failure, whether it be your receiving equipment or just a problem with the car, and of course simply losing the signal of the cat collar can happen just as easily. One problem that was discovered at the beginning of the tracking project was that the signal strength of the collar is halved when tracking in areas where the dunes are large and plentiful. Despite all this, tracking has its wonderful moments and many things have been learnt about a female wildcat while tracking Sheba.