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Pathogen Risk Assessment on Arabian felines in the United Arab Emirates and Oman

Project Summary

Arabian felines (Arabian leopards, cheetahs, wildcats, sand cats and caracals) are either regionally extinct, critically endangered or their populations are worryingly declining in the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it, claimed the need to carry out further research on the factors that may threaten these five felids.

Felid conservation will increasingly need to include assessments of disease risks and strategies for disease management in order to be successful, since it is known that most wild-feline populations are at risk of exposure to new pathogens due to deterioration of many of their inhabited ecosystems, as well as the fact that historic geographic barriers have been bridged, which might imperil population health. At the same time, due to the gravity of these animals’ situation in the wild, they are held and bred in captivity at centres worldwide. Such captive breeding programmes are essential in maintaining genetic diversity and saving these species from extinction, since their reintroduction may be the only means of restoring their populations in the wild. Nevertheless, captive animals are more likely to contract diseases because animals live in close proximity to each other. Whereas in nature diseases that are caused by parasites comprise one of the major problems resulting in even morbidity and mortality in these animals, in captivity the effects range from sub-clinical to death.

In this framework, the aim of this project would be to determine the types, prevalence, and intensity of parasitic, bacterial and viral infections in the wild and captive Arabian felines located in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Very little has so far been published on pathogenic diseases of these felines in the Arabian Peninsula either in the wild or in captivity, and a study of this scope in such field would be the first of its kind. The results obtained will constitute a baseline data and a vital reference for future research in such neglected area. Moreover, the knowledge obtained from this project will, inevitably, be used in future reintroduction and reinforcement projects of these species in both countries.

Research Objectives

  • Which parasitic, bacterial and viral pathogen species infect/circulate within the Arabian felines populations in the UAE and Oman?
  • When comparing wild and captive Arabian felines populations, what are the differences in pathogen prevalence and abundance?
  • Does the prevalence and/or abundance of some of these pathogens comprise a threat to the Arabian felines’ lives?

Methodology

Please see Appendix I and II.

Expected Outcomes

  • Launching collaboration between the Veterinary Medicine Department and Department of Biology at UAEU, and The Biology Department at SQU, as well as Governmental authorities and NGOs working in conservation of the Arabian felines in both countries.
  • The expected results will be published in peer reviewed journals related to animal conservation and health.
  • The data and conclusions will be presented in national and international conferences.