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mountains and wadis

The Natural Environment
Nature Tour of the UAE
Wildlife in the UAE
Key animals
Captive breeding of rare breeds
Whales and dolphins in the UAE
Scorpions and snakes
Ornithology in the UAE
Environmental agencies
Fossil hunting

The Hajar Mountains, the major mountain system of south-eastern Arabia, transverse the UAE from north to south in the east of the country. Rising abruptly from the surrounding terrain, the mountains are dissected by numerous wadis or (usually dry) watercourses. Apart from small pockets of soil that accumulate in rock fissures, the spectacular mountain scenery often appears distinctly barren. However, this initial impression is misleading. Many wadis and the high mountain plateaux can support relatively lush vegetation. In fact, assisted by increased precipitation and lower temperatures, the mountainous areas contain the highest diversity of plant life compared to any other habitat type in the UAE.


Towards the mountains, the gravel plains are thick with stands of Prosopsis juliflora. On the lower mountain slopes, the umbrella-like Acacia tortilis and Euphorbia larica are ever-present, accompanied by a number of perennials. At higher altitudes, trees such as the graceful pink-flowering Moringa peregrina and Ficus cordata become more prominent on rock debris, especially near wadis. In the far north-east, the Arabian almond Amygdalus arabica grows above 1000 metres and olive trees, Olea europaea, are locally common high in the mountains.

For more information on UAE plants

Unfortunately, the mammalian population has not fared very well in these mountain regions. Predators such as the Arabian leopard, caracal lynx, Arabian wolf and striped hyena have all been decimated, to the point of extinction in the case of the wolf and hyena. Wild mammalian herbivores such as ibex, wild goat, mountain gazelle and Arabian tahr also suffered. Today only a few caracal, leopard and the notoriously elusive tahr survive.


For more information on UAE mammals CLICK HERE.


Wadis, some with permanent pools, or, in rarer instances, a flow of water even after years of sparse rainfall, are home to a resident community of birds, including brown-necked raven, desert lark, sand martin and rock martin. Egyptian vulture and possibly the lappet-faced vulture may soar overhead. The plaintiff call of the nocturnal desert eagle owl can also be heard on mountain cliffs and in a number of wadis. Lower down, in wadis that benefit from water and cultivated vegetation, Indian rollers, laughing doves, purple sunbirds and little green bee-eaters are common.


Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies thrive near vegetation and water, and scorpions and spiders burrow under debris and stones. All of the seven native land snails live in or near the mountains. The wadis and screes are home, too, to geckoes and other lizards, the tessellated skink and the Asian snake-eyed skink. The wadi racer snake, as its name indicates, is found in most wadis with permanent water. Here, also, you may see the only amphibian in the UAE, two species of toad. Three native and two non-native species of freshwater fish are also common, including tilapia.


The spectacular Wadi Wurrayah in Fujairah, home to the UAE's only waterfall and a Ramsar Convention wetland site of international importance, is the central focus of the 129 square kilometre Wadi Wurrayah Nature Reserve and the site of the Water Research and Learning Centre. Work is ongoing to study and conserve the unique flora and fauna in the park before it is re-opened to the public.

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