Sultan Al Qasimi opens 19th Sharjah International Conservation Forum for Arabian Biodiversity

SHARJAH, 5th February, 2018 (WAM) — H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, opened the 19th Sharjah International Conservation Forum for Arabian Biodiversity at Arabia’s Wildlife Centre on Monday.

The Forum is organised by the Environment and Protected Areas Authority, EPAA. It is being attended by over 200 experts, researchers, specialists and academicians from all over the world, who will hold workshops, panel discussions and presentations in the field of environment and its preservation.

Sheikh Sultan praised the work done in the field of environmental protection in order to preserve the environment and conserve Sharjah’s biodiversity as well as to collect, compile and conserve rare seeds in the region.

He announced the opening date of the new Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium in Al-Dhaid City and the impending opening of Al Rifaisa Natural Reserve located in Khorfakkan to join the natural reserves in Sharjah.

In his speech, the Ruler of Sharjah welcomed attendees and said, “This annual Forum will give us a strong push to continue our efforts in protecting the environment. We already have many achievements; we have accomplished many goals and our events are abounding. This is our drive to work with more diligence.

“The Sharjah Nature Conservation Programme started here (at the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre) 25 years ago. I was here, and I found a few pits with plastic wires. I asked, why? I was told ‘to hunt the spiny-tailed lizards.’ I took the initiative and fenced this area as fast as I could to preserve it. We started to preserve more animals everywhere. However, two programmes started in this place: flora and fauna propagation.

“The flora propagation started by collecting all the plants, especially the endangered species, and the Seed Bank was established. I then called it the Desert Plants Bank. The existing museum project was also founded back then. We have started the propagation and breeding programme for endangered animals, which you know very well since you visit this place and see its activities.

“This programme is all about bringing these plants and animals back into nature. We have nurseries producing millions of trees and plants that I personally supervise. Through these nurseries, we have provided the natural reserves with millions of trees annually, such as the Al Muntather Protected Area, among others, over the years. Now, before releasing any animals in that reserve, it is seen that it has rodents and many kinds of birds where water, protection, shade, and food are found. Furthermore, the reserve has many plants with edible fruits for feeding animals.”

Announcing the launch of a new reserve in the city of Khorfakkan, Sheikh Sultan said, “We are currently in the process of launching Al Rifaisa Natural Reserve at Khorfakkan where we will release a number of animals such as the Arabian tahr and Arabian leopard, among others, and it will be opened soon. It will be located in an area with a deep valley.

Dr. Sheikh Sultan also announced the opening of Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium next Wednesday. “With regards to seed protection, the Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium for endangered seeds will open next Wednesday, Allah Almighty willing. We have collected all types of seeds from this part of the Arabian Peninsula, in accordance with the opinions of relevant specialists. There are 16 rare species of seeds that are unnamed, and we hope that they will be named after Sharjah because they exist here but nobody knew about them previously,” he said.

He concluded his speech by wishing success to the conference and expressing his hope that it will increase the determination to persevere and produce helpful results.

Dr. Craig Hilton-Taylor, Head of the IUCN Red List Unit, said, “It is a great honour to be here. The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animals, plants and fungi species and their links to human livelihood. Over the years, we have run several workshops, and 2016 marked an important year that focussed on Arabian mammals while 2017 was centred on Arabian trees and aloes, and 2018 has started well. We aim to continue this positive momentum by assessing the status of remaining plants thought to be endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. On this important occasion, we would like to thank Sheikh Sultan for having us here and giving us the opportunity to be a part of this important Forum.”

Dr. Penny Langhammer, Director of Key Biodiversity Areas and Species Assessment, said, “Thank you Sheikh Sultan for inviting us to this Forum. While biodiversity has a long history, please note that not all biodiversity sites are always protected. Therefore, a global standard is essential to agreeing on a methodology to enable countries to identify key biodiversity areas, based on data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and other datasets. There are five important criteria for identifying key biodiversity areas, including threatened biodiversity, geographically restricted biodiversity, ecological integrity, biological processes and irreplaceability through quantitative analysis. Several world nature conserving organisations have come together to identify important biodiversity sites, to monitor and evaluate the underlying conditions of these areas. While several efforts have been made to safeguard and identify key biodiversity sites, this year, through SICFAB, we aim to apply key biodiversity significance across the Arabian Peninsula. We also aim to test the regionalisation of the KBA criteria and thresholds.”

Dr Gerhard Steenkamp, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, commented, “Thank you, Your Highness, for having us here. This is the youngest theme at the Forum, and while we aim to increase our capacity within the region, we are also keen to identify areas of concern and improve channels to advance veterinary diagnostics. In 2014, we focussed on protecting carnivorous species while 2015 was centred on understanding diseases in animals, and 2016 centred on infectious diseases and its complications while 2017 focussed on nutrition. This year, 2018, is an important year, and we aim to focus our capabilities on diagnostic tests, particularly those that can be performed in-house, as well as develop field skills for sampling, establish laboratories to boost diagnosis, understand the body’s response to diseases or foreign bodies, and adopt technology to empower ecology.”

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