Ras Al Khaimah has a varied topography consisting of sandy desert, coastal strips with salt flats areas, mangroves and mountains. All these areas have different ecosystems which makes the Emirate a fascinating place for nature lovers.
Apart from cultivated plants there are three categories of flora in Ras Al Khaimah – the salt loving vegetation, mountains and desert plants which are plentiful after rainfall. The Emirate is also home to a number of mammals, mainly foxes, jerboas or wildcats as well as hundreds of bird species.
Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE are of great ornithological importance being home to many residing and migrating bird species. Between the months of July to November and April and May many different birds can be observed, and they can be divided according to the environment where they occur. Wadis and mountains host wheatears, partridges, warblers, falcons and even vultures. Spot larks, wheatears, babblers and ravens often inhabit the desert. A birdwatcher will also find plentiful birds in towns and on plantations where rollers, sunbirds, bee-eaters, hoopoes, ring-necked parakeets and many more can easily be found.
Large and impressive groups of birds can sometimes be spotted along the lagoons and coastline, these shorebirds mainly consist of waders, sandpipers, plovers, herons, terns and gulls. There are also large colonies of greater flamingos and cormorants.
A surprisingly large diversity of plants have adapted to the Ras Al Khaimah climate and harsh environment. The desert vegetation consists largely of shrubs, bushes and trees, with the most common being ghaf trees, acacias and so called desert thorns. The desert is also home to many plants such as desert ephemerals, hyacinths and thumbs which flourish mainly during the winter and spring season turning the desert into a sea of blossom.
The mountains of Ras Al Khaimah turn colorful and green in the spring times caused by rainfall in the winter months. You will be able to find purple lilies, wild irises, white daisies and longipes. High in the mountains you may also notice an interesting tree called Amygdalus Arabicus, meaning the Arabian almond. This tree produces small and bitter almonds. The sidr, a tree which is highly appreciated for its medical use can also be found in the wadis, and is often associated with excellent honey produced by bees who feast on the pollen of this tree. The poisonous but beautiful oleander also grows in the area.
There are also numerous herbs to be seen which has been used for medical purposes. After rainfalls you may notice local people collecting a certain plant, this plant is locally known as daghabis and its top part is edible, sweet and nutritious.
The most common mammals in Ras Al Khaimah are camels, goats and feral donkeys. However there are also wild mammals that choose desert or mountains as their habitat. They often go unseen, as many of them are nocturnal. Rodents are the largest group of mammals and they include jerboas, cheesmans as well as a other species of gerbils and jirds.
Other common animals are foxes (the Arabian red, Blandford’s, sand fox), bats and hares and wildcats (the Gordon’s wildcat and the sand cat). The Arabian sand gazelle and the Mountain Gazelles, although very rare, sometimes can be spotted in the wild.
Once, this area was also a sanctuary for a variety of other mammals such as leopards, wolves, striped hyenas, thars and caracals. Unfortunately all of these are either now extinct in the UAE or on the brink of extinction due to intense hunting and the spread of human settlements. What is more, the Gordon’s wildcat faces another danger, which will probably lead to its extinction as a distinct species as this wildcat often interbreeds with feral or domestic cats, therefore a pure breed is almost impossible to find.
Conservation efforts are undertaken to preserve the wildlife of the UAE such as the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx into its natural environment. Hopefully the results of this and other projects can be seen in the future.