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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 14258819

Extensive Dragonfly survey targeting Urothemis thomasi to clarify its status and distribution across the Hajar Mountains

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 14258819) - Dragonflies and Damselflies - Awarded $12,500 on May 12, 2014

Studies focussing on the Odonata (carnivorous insects) species carried out in a national park in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and neighbouring Oman are playing a huge role in ensuring the survival of a rare dragonfly – the Urothemis thomasi. This stunningly beautiful invertebrate was near to being declared extinct until a fortuitous, and totally unexpected, find in the UAE’s east coast emirate of Fujairah brought it back from the brink.

The 2014 studies, carried out by the UAE’s non-profit Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), have assessed the distribution, and ecological requirements for the survival of this species, which until 2013, was last recorded over 30 years ago. 

The setting for the remarkable discovery was the quiet and solitude of Fujairah’s Wadi Wurayah National Park – the UAE’s first National Park - where life centres around the indigenous wetland eco-system. 

On first glance, and to the untrained eye, the park would seem unlikely to host much life but Research Manager, Jacky Judas says nothing could be further from the truth: “You have many different endemic species and a lot of biodiversity hidden in this arid environment. In regards to dragonflies, it’s a regional hotspot.”

In 2013 the EWS-WWF team were busy investigating the wadi’s dragonflies with an intensity of fervour seemingly at odds with the size of the species under investigation. “They are a magnificent old species, aged 300 million years old,” enthused Maral Chreiki, Conservation & Operations Manager at Wadi Wurayah. “They are fragile, they are colourful and they are agile. Their body structure, everything about their species is unique, including their life cycle. Theirs is partly an aqautic life cycle where they spend more than half their life in the water, they breed in the water then emerge and start to fly.”

It was a visit by David Chelmick, President of the British Odonatological Society, which helped changed the fortunes of the Urothemis thomasi. Attracted to Wadi Wurayah because of the park’s growing reputation for its diversity of dragonflies, David made a rare and, at the time, baffling discovery.

“We went into the wadi and I took lots of photographs and collected lots of exuviae – which is the husk, the larvae case of the dragonfly  - and I collected this funny exuvia.  It was big, without any spines and I couldn’t work it out. I then sent it to all sorts of people and all sorts of people wrote back and said they had no idea either. And eventually I sent it to a friend of mine in Germany and he worked out it was an exuviae from an Urothemis species and therefore it must be Urothemis thomasi. How about that! It was wonderful.”

As inspiring as it was, the discovery – which saved the species from being classified as Extinct was only the start of a campaign to ensure its very existence. 

“We didn’t know why this species was rare and why we found it in Wadi Wurayah where it is always low in numbers – we needed to investigate in more detail,” explained Judas. 

The Fund weighed in with finance to cover the direct and indirect costs of surveys which attracted the attention, and support, of European specialists and the results are providing crucial conservation insights. 

“The Fund has helped us a lot in developing the survey. Many sites in the UAE have been reviewed to identify the status and clarify the distribution of the Urothemis thomasi. Now we know that the species is here.” explained Judas. “And so far, we have not found it in other locations in the UAE or Oman. This points to the importance of Wadi Wurayah as a protected area.”

EWS-WWF hopes the studies will lead to Urothemis thomasi being updated in the Red List and that current and future findings will ensure its survival while help further establish Wadi Wurayah as a national park of international conservation importance. It’s a strategy David Chelmick deems “essential.”

Project 14258819 location - United Arab Emirates, Asia