Conservation volunteering | Wildlife Volunteer | Biosphere Expeditions 1-week projects Arabia - oryx & wildcat
This environment volunteer project will take you to the iconic sandy desert landscape of the Arabian Peninsula. Working alongside scientists from the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, you will be part of a small international team, monitoring Arabian oryx, Gordon's wildcat and other desert species. From a comfortable oasis field camp you will venture out in the expedition 4WDs and on foot to study oryx behaviour and social structures, camera- and live-trap Gordon's wildcat and monitor Macqueen’s bustard by radio and GPS telemetry. All this because the three main study species are on the IUCN Red list and the expedition’s work will help to ensure the survival of the species in the wild.
This environment volunteer project will assist scientists of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) gather scientific data on Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and Macqueen’s bustard to gain a better understanding of their ecology so that informed management decisions can be made. All three species are on the IUCN Red list and the expedition’s work will help to ensure the survival of the species in the wild.
Aims & Objectives
(1) To study the behaviour and social structures of the DDCR’s different Arabian oryx herds. This will include monitoring the condition of the animals within the hard and their diet preferences. Individuals within each herd may be darted and have GPS collars fitted to ascertain home range as well as seasonal changes in behaviour.
(2) To assess the status of the DDCR’s Gordon’s wildcat population. This will be done through both camera trapping and live trapping. If possible GPS collars will be fitted to captured wildcats for a more intensive study of range and habitat use.
(3) To collect biological and diagnostic samples from all captured animals for DNA analysis.
(3) To track and monitor the re-introduced Macqueen’s bustard by radio and GPS telemetry to study their behaviour, as well as habitat and diet preference with in the DDCR.
In gaining a better understanding of the Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and Macqueen’s bustard, through observations on their movements, habitat and food preferences and through their interaction with other species, this project will be able to ascertain what the major threats are to their continued survival. Based on this, project scientists can then develop appropriate management plans that will provide a safe environment for the study species to thrive in.
The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, is well known for its rapid development over the past 40 years as well as for the mega-construction projects such as the Palm Islands and the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building). Less well known is the diversity and beauty of the natural environment, from the dugongs and corals in the Arabian sea, the flamingos in the khors (inlets) of the coastline, the rugged Hajar mountain range, to the serene splendour of the sandy dune inland desert. Also little known is that the largest piece of land given to any single project in Dubai was for the establishment of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve; at 225km², 4.7% of Dubai’s total land area.
Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), Gordon’s wildcat (Felis silvestris gordoni), Macqueen’s bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii).
Other species present, all in true sandy and rocky desert habitat: Arabian gazelle, sand gazelle, Arabian red fox, sand fox, Arabian hare, Ethiopian hedgehog and the lesser jerboa. There are also a number of reptiles, such as the monitor and spiny-tailed lizards, and both residential and migrating bird species, such as long-legged buzzards, lappet-faced vultures and the pharaoh eagle owl. All in all, 70 plant, 17 mammals, 26 reptile, 126 bird and 89 insect species have been identified in the DDCR.
Specific activities are usually decided the night before. The whole set-up of the expedition is quite flexible so that you can participate according to the weather (usually sunshine and warm temperatures), your skills and general fitness and how you feel on the day. Your typical day may consist of taking your survey group’s 4WD into the desert to (1) check, service or set live or camera traps, or (2) find and follow a herd of oryx or a bustard, or (3) assist with collaring an oryx or wildcat. Research groups will return to the field base for the night where food is prepared by the expedition cook. Please note that every member of the expedition can be rotated through all activities.
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) is an area of 225 km² that comprises 4.7% of Dubai’s land area. Conservation in this area started in 1999 when the Al Maha Desert Resort was opened within a protected area of 27 km² (Al Maha Reserve). One of the first conservation actions of the reserve was a wildlife reintroduction programme for Arabian oryx and the two indigenous gazelle species (sand as well as Arabian gazelle), as well as programmes for the protection of other key components of the ecosystem, in particular the vegetation (close to 6000 indigenous trees were planted in 1999 to create a natural seed bank, which has now led to germination of indigenous plants). In 2001 the resort management began a major environmental audit of the surrounding area. Following this audit a proposal was submitted to the Dubai government on the formation of a formal national park. The proposal was accepted and sanctioned almost immediately and work began on protecting the area to be known as the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
Today the DDCR is a representative of the Dubai inland desert ecosystem and is characterised by a sandy desert environment consisting of sand dunes interspersed with gravel plains. There is one rocky outcrop in the north of the reserve, which provides nesting sites for the desert eagle owl and two groves of rare ghaf trees (Prosopis cineraria).
Our main partner on this expedition is the Dubai Conservation Board, a government-appointed organisation concerned with the conservation and protection of the Dubai inland desert. Other partners include the National Avian Research Centre, whose rangers will assist with training for tracking the bustards. Local organic food supplier Ripe kindly supplies the food for the expedition team.
"Our exciting collaboration with Biosphere Expeditions will expand our primary goal of desert conservation, through active research and conservation work by expedition participants. Observations and data collected by the participants will enhance our understanding of the desert environment and help us achieve our ultimate goal of ensuring rare desert species survival in the wild."
Greg Simkins, Conservation Officer, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. “I found the expedition very informative and interesting. Loved it that I have learned so many new things about the desert and its animals, as well a being taught sand driving and the use of various pieces of equipment. I would like to thank all the people involved in making this expedition happen very much. Well done!!! Had a great time!”
Evelyn Brey, 48, UAE.
“All I can say is – ripper trip! What a great expedition and one of the most interesting times I have ever had.”
Peter Gosnell, 49, Australia.
“One of the most amazing trips of my life – wonderful people, wonderful experience.”
“What a wonderful experience. One that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
“What an incredible experience. Being part of an exciting research project with a wonderful team. I am so proud to be part of something like that and so impressed.”
"It was a great and new experience to focus yourself on small details on the ground, which are so important for the big aim. After a while you feel a peace inside yourself, being in a great environment together with a great team."
The expedition briefing contains very detailed information on this expedition, including instructions on how to get to the assembly point, what you will be doing whilst on expedition and who your expedition leader and scientists will be.
Briefings are provided as pdf documents and you must provide a name, country of residence and valid e-mail address to be able to download one.
You can access briefings via the Download Centre.
Join this desert expedition / working holiday to the United Arab Emirates volunteering with the Arabian Oryx, Gordon's wildcat and other species.
An easy way to grow your contribution
© Biosphere Expeditions, an international non-profit conservation organisation registered in England, Germany, France, Australia and the USA
Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
Officially accredited member of the International Union for Conservation