Too many mangroves is not a good thing – at least not at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai, where they were introduced in 1990. So an ecologist at Dubai’s Wildlife Protection office has proposed using camels to trim back the excess canopies that have buried wader feeding areas. Kevin Hyland told The National that camels used to have access to the sanctuary before it was fenced off in 2002, and that reintroducing them would help restore the site’s sensitive ecology without disrupting bird life.
Hyland emphasizes that the camels would be introduced as part of a careful management program, and that they will not be left to run amok.
“The key phrase in the whole proposal is ‘managed camel grazing,'” the ecologist told the paper. “It’s not, ‘let’s just chuck in 100 camels’, because we don’t want to destroy the mangrove canopy.”
According to Hyland, BirdLife International opposed the plan to introduce mangroves to the Ras Al Khor Sanctuary in 1990 as part of a “greening” program, and now, 20 years later, the wildlife protection office and Dubai Municipality are beginning to glean the error of that initiative.
Although spoonbills have proliferated as a result of the invasive mangrove canopies, feeding grounds for certain species have been buried by five meters of mangroves. So now they want to reverse some of the damage.
Instead of employing 20 workers to cut back mangroves, which is likely to scare off spoonbills and other bird species, the camels can munch on the green leaves. And just in case too many mangrove leaves are bad for camels too, the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory will be on hand to monitor the animals.
And when ground-nesting birds breed, the camels will be removed. Hyland also likes the idea of using the camels to create a new eco-tourism initiative. Instead of putting the sanctuary’s rangers in 4x4s, he told the paper that they could lead bird tours on camelback instead.
Camel milk may also become available at a new visitor center that is being floated as a potential part of the new management plan, which would help to educate visitors about the importance of the wetland reserve so famous for attracting a great number of migratory species amidst Dubai’s urban sprawl and for its 500 flamingos.
As long as mangrove fodder is healthy for the camel trimmers, Ras Al Khor camels face a better fate than that of Falaj Mualla camels, half of whom die from eating plastic despite concerted efforts to draw awareness to this situation.
And the birds will be grateful too.
:: The National
Image of camel mouth from Shutterstock