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Ways of the desert: conserving Arabian oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and other species in the iconic sandy desert landscape of Arabia.

Desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in Arabia


This project was named on The Independent's 
"Best Desert Adventure Holidays" list.

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. 

Arabian oryxGordon's wildcatSurvey work Land Rover in the desert

PRICE = Expedition contribution (land only per slot)
£1190 (ca. €1480 | US$1970 | AU$2090).
Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in British pound sterling and the approximate Euro and US Dollar equivalent. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and an up to date Euro and US Dollar exchange rate.
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2015: 10 - 17 January (7 nights).
Team members can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified). How long can I join for?

Check detailed availability & sign up

Amber: Expeditions of status amber have few spaces available (or are currently in the field). To join them you need to decide soon.

Iconic Arabian sandy desert.

Weather expected during expedition
Warm and dry with temperatures in the 20sºC and an average of ten hours sunshine per day.

Expedition base
Our base is a field camp of one to two person dome, a Bedu mess and a kitchen tent set in a quiet desert oasis. There are standard toilets and showers; each person will have his/her own comfortable dome tent to sleep in and there are bigger tents for couples. 

Team size
Up to 12 team members + 1 local biologist + 1 expedition leader.

Skills & prerequisites required
None. You don't need to be a scientist or have any special qualifications - everyone can take part and there are no age limits whatsoever.
Can laypeople really be of help to serious research & conservation projects?

Fitness level required
Ability to walk about 4-8 km per day in sandy desert terrain and the ability to tolerate heat and sometimes wind.
Will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?

Team assembly point
Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
What about carbon neutrality and other environmental and social impact?
Who books my flights?

And finally
Our expeditions are not about playing the primitive, neither are we a military style 'boot-camp'. Our expedition leader and the local scientist will be by your side and we believe strongly that we get the best out of our expedition teams by making them comfortable, safe and well fed. You won’t be living in the lap of luxury, but we will do our best to make you feel comfortable and at home in your working environment, as this is the key to a well-balanced and successful expedition.

Check detailed availability & sign up


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.    

Study species

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.

Typical day

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.

Study area

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. Al Maha Resort & Spa kindly supplies the cook and food for the expedition.

Check detailed availability & sign up



Map of the region and study site.

Google map

Google map of all Biosphere Expeditions study sites, expedition bases, assembly points, office locations, etc.


Arabian oryx

Arabian oryx.

Arabian oryx

Arabian oryx with telemetry collar.

Juvenile oryx Juvenile oryx.

Gordon's wildcat

Gordon's wildcat caught in a camera trap.

Gordon's wildcat

Gordon's wildcat, still drowsy after sedation.

Arabian fox

Arabian foxes caught on camera trap.

Arabian fox

Arabian foxes.

Arabian gazelle

Arabian gazelle.

Arabian gazelle

Arabian gazelle.

Arabian hare Arabian hare.
Leptien's spiny-tailed lizard Leptien's spiny-tailed lizard.
Monitor lizard Monitor lizard.
Toad-headed agama Toad-headed agama.
Macqueen's bustard Macqueen's bustard.
Macqueen's bustard Macqueen's bustard with telemetry antenna.
Blue-cheeked bee-eater Blue-cheeked bee-eater.
Eurasian hobby Eurasian hobby.
Golden eagle Golden eagle.
Pharao eagle owl Pharao eagle owl.
Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse.
Gazelle track Gazelle track.
Track mêlée Track mêlée.
Entrance to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Entrance to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
Desert landscape

  Desert landscape.
Base camp is in the trees in the background.

Desert landscape

Desert landscape & study site.

Desert landscape & study site

  Desert landscape & study site.

Desert landscape & study site

Desert landscape & study site.

Desert landscape & study site

Desert landscape & study site.

Desert landscape & study site Sunrise and two oryx.
Getting to grips with using a compass Getting to grips with using a compass.
Getting to grips with using a GPS and map Getting to grips with using a GPS and map.
Learning how to use binoculars and spotting scopes Learning how to use binoculars and spotting scopes.
Getting the gear ready Getting the gear ready.
Observation work

Observation work.

Observation work Observation work.
Recording oryx herd size & structure

Recording oryx herd size & structure.

Setting up a camera trap

  Setting up a camera trap.

Camera trap in place

Camera trap in place.

Releasing Macqueen's bustard with telemery antenna fitted

  Releasing Macqueen's bustards with telemery antennas fitted.

Collaring a sedated Arabian oryx

Collaring a sedated Arabian oryx.

Tracking collared animals by telemetry

  Tracking collared animals by telemetry.

Baiting a trap for Gordons wildcat (they like chilly tuna!) Baiting a trap for Gordons wildcat (they like chilly tuna!)
Covering a trapped Gordons' wildcat to keep it calm Covering a trapped Gordons' wildcat to keep it calm.
Trapping & collaring Gordon's wildcat

  A trapped Gordon's wildcat.

Measuring a sedated Gordons' wildcat

  Measuring a sedated Gordons' wildcat.

A sedated Gordons' wildcat A sedated Gordons' wildcat back at base.
Data entry back at base Data entry back at base.
Base camp with Bedu mess tent and individual dome tents for people to sleep in

  Base camp with Bedu mess tent and individual dome tents for people to sleep in.

Bedu mess tent at night (with solar lighting) Bedu mess tent at night (with solar lighting).
Inside the Bedu mess tent

Inside the Bedu mess tent.

Inside the Bedu mess tent Inside the Bedu mess tent.
Inside the Bedu mess tent Inside the Bedu mess tent.
Relaxing at base Relaxing at base.
On a survey with an expedition Land Rover

  On a survey with an expedition vehicle.

Land Rover & study site landscape

  Expedition vehicle & study site landscape.

You get stuck, you get digging

You get stuck, you get digging  Wink

You get stuck, you get digging You get stuck, you get digging  Wink
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Summary of the project.

Handling and releasing a Gordon's wildcat.

Walk around base camp.
YouTube Watch more Arabian project
on YouTube.  


News International Holiday ideas - among the sand dunes in Dubai
in English
pdf View article 190.42 Kb
TheNational Be a voluntourist at Dubai's Desert Conservation Reseve
in English
pdf View article 202.10 Kb
TheNational Bid to save wildcat from amorous cousins
in English
pdf View article 14.34 Mb
TheNational Life remains a struggle for the Arabian oryx
in English
View article
gulfnews.gif A walk on the wild side in the heart of Dubai
in English
pdf View article 125.61 Kb
WK Blog The 5% of Dubai that loves conservation
in English
View article
independent.gif Careful conservation
in English
pdf View article 2.87 Mb
Outdoor UAE Biosphere Expeditions
in English
pdf View article 41.69 Kb


"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.

Feedback from team members about their experiences and
reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).


“One of the most amazing trips of my life – wonderful people, wonderful experience.”
Rosie Bowker, 63, UK
“Deep satisfaction with one of the most impressive, touching landscapes I have seen so far on this big small planet. Happy very open-minded, dedicated, respectful crew & team. Silence when silence was appropriate. Laughter when laughter was appropriate. Thank you very much for letting me share this experience.”
Andreas Hub, 43, Germany.

“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.”
Andrea Baumgärtner, 41, Austria.

“This was my first expedition and I was not sure what to expect. I was wanting the adventure of a lifetime and I certainly got that and more. A real feel for ancient times, met real people, climbed dunes. The desert and indeed the country is spectacular, the sand driving is great fun, the camp is great. To see the light and mist appear with the sun shining on the mountains – it’s out of this world. I got to be Indiana Jones for two weeks. Thanks to all.”
Brian Murphy, 32, UK.

“I’ve just spent half an hour reflecting on everything that’s happened over the last two weeks – it’s been such a lot! What a fantastic experience. The sun and warmth, the stunning scenery, some truly dramatic surveys and, above all, a wonderful team with which to share everything. I envy everyone who is yet to come here.”
Brian Green, 46, UK.

“What a wonderful experience. One that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Wendy Harrell, 44, USA.

“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.”
Andrea Baumgärtner, 41, Switzerland.

"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."
Susanne Moelter, 38, Germany.


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.

Check detailed availability & sign up

An easy way to grow your contribution

Many employers, particularly in the USA and Canada, but also elsewhere, will match fund charitable contributions made by their employees, retirees and employees’ spouses. That means you may well be able to increase significantly the contribution you make towards wildlife contribution. > more information

You may be able to reduce the net cost of your expedition

Depending on your country of origin, a portion of your expedition contribution and additional expenses (such as additional food, lodging and transportation) may be tax-deductible. Have a look at for more details and examples.



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