The word 'biodiversity' is a combination of two words: biological and diversity. It refers to the variety of life on Earth. Biodiversity encompasses all the living things that exist in a certain area, in the air, on land or in water: plants, animals, micro-organisms, fungi. The area can be as small as your garden or as large as the world. All living things do not exist in isolation, they are connected to other living things and to their environment. If one tiny species in an ecosystem becomes extinct, we may not notice, or think it's important, but the biodiversity of that ecosystem will be altered, and all the ecosystems that the species belonged to will be affected.


Amazingly, our current estimates of unknown species greatly exceeds our count of known species which currently stands at about 2 million (also estimated due to a lack of a central, cohesive database and naming standard). This against estimates of 5 – 30 million species worldwide. Some studies have found as many as 5 out of 6 insects found in some rainforest canopies were new species.

 

There are six main threats to biodiversity:
Overpopulation
Loss / destruction of habitat
Climate change
Pollution
Overhunting
Introduced species


As modern science and technology continues to draw increasing inspiration from nature, whether in understanding how to fight disease and finding new cures, or creating new structural designs or materials based on billions of years of perfected adaptation, so the repercussions of losing species before they are even discovered become ever more significant.  We encourage you to visit IUCN's Red List 'Species of the Day' to learn more about our world's threatened wildlife.



Threatened Wildlife


Despite much work done over the years, many people are still unfamiliar with Oman's wildlife species and subspecies and the special threats to their survival.


The globally Endangered Wa'al al 'Arabi suffers from an image of being 'just a type of goat', yet it is one of the rarest species in the world, only occurring in the mountains of northern Oman and the UAE and nowhere else in the world. There are still some people who, in their ignorance, hunt them illegally for their meat.


Predators such as the wild cats: the Critically Endangered Arabian Leopard (Nimr al 'Arabi), the Caracal ('Anaq/Khuwenq/Hamra) and the Gordon's Wildcat (Sinnamaar) are still sometimes persecuted because they may feed on domestic animals.


Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus arabs)
© A Edris


The Arabian Wolf (Dhi'b) is seriously threatened by illegal hunting for the same reason. Many of those who live near their habitats do not understand that these animals are often hungry because there is a shortage of their natural prey - other wild animals. Overgrazing by goats, drought or illegal killing of wild prey species, has upset the Balance of Nature. Predators in the right numbers can be beneficial to domestic livestock by killing diseased or old animals, or removing feral goats from the mountain grazing areas.

 

Feral Dogs and Cats


Increased numbers of feral cats in populated areas pose a serious threat to the genetic integrity of the Gordon's Wildcat, by interbreeding with it. There is some evidence that wolves can also hybridise with domestic dogs, with a number of attacks on domestic flocks believed to have been caused by dog-wolf hybrids, not pure wolves. Certainly there have been many attacks by feral dogs on domestic livestock that have been wrongly blamed on wolves.


Gordon's Wildcat (Felis silvestris gordoni)
© F Pauli

Feral dogs and cats may contract rabies from foxes, mongooses or other animals, spreading it to domestic cats or livestock, posing a further threat to people. Uncontrolled numbers of feral cats in urban areas can spread other diseases. If such animals are trapped and taken to remote places, instead of being disposed of humanely by a veterinary surgeon, they attempt to return home, often suffering or dying of starvation on the way. They also pose a greater risk of spreading disease to wild populations, or inter-breeding with their

wild cousins.


Marine Wildlife


Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
© A Willson


Marine endangered species include all of the five species of sea turtles that occur in Oman, namely the Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle and Leatherback Turtle. There are several other marine species, from invertebrates to large whales, whose survival here remains uncertain, either because their range is very limited (in the case of some endemic corals, for example) or their population numbers are low and they suffer from human activity (such as in the case of Humpback Whales). More research can help us to better understand which species are in need of special attention.