Camera Trapping In Yemen

Waleed Al'Rail with Leopard Foundation's camera trap, Hawf, Yemen

Waleed Al’Rail with Leopard Foundation’s camera trap, Hawf, Yemen

As I wrote in a previous post, using camera traps in wildlife photography provides its own unique set of challenges and possibilities for unique photographs. Using camera traps in a different country is a totally different story.

Before this assignment I was only operating one camera trap, but by the time I was getting on a plane to try and get some pictures of the mysterious wildlife Yemen has to offer they totaled five. There was surprisingly little resistance by the immigration people of Yemen to my equipment and me coming into the country. This was mainly due to the fact that I am not a journalist and even more importantly all the work David Stanton and Yousuf Mohageb had put into making this step of the project go smoothly (David is from the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen and Yousuf Mohageb runs Arabian Eco-tours).

David Stanton (right) and Yousuf Mohageb (center) eating dinner, Yemen

David Stanton (right) and Yousuf Mohageb (center) eating dinner, Yemen

Bureaucratic problems avoided, it was time to focus on placing the cameras in spots where there were good chances of animals coming by. While Waleed Al’Rail and  Murad Mohamed (both are Yemeni Arabian Leopard researchers) were checking their cameras and showing me the area, I was imagining all the good locations for the camera traps along the game trails we were using. When I expressed my ideas, Waleed and Murad made me aware of a problem I had not even considered. Yemen is a Muslim country, and in Islamic law it is not accepted to take pictures of woman. Sure that’s easy to control when you are behind the camera but when you put the camera out in nature, especially in an area like ours where people use the land and a daily basis, it is incredibly challenging. There was a fine balance between a good location for the cameras and one that women may use while they were deployed. If women saw the cameras, I was told, they would get destroyed.

Keeping this in mind, we deployed three of the five cameras into the cloud forest habitat of the Hawf Protected Area. Three days later a cyclone arrives (the worst in forty years) and destroys, or better yet, completely obliterates one of the cameras. One camera down, it was beyond repair.

 

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Flooding in the Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Flooding in the Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Broken camera from camera trap, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Broken camera from camera trap, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Nonetheless the camera captured one image before being flooded.

Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) pair, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) pair, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

The other two cameras also snapped a few images.

Indian Crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Indian Crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Curious Caracal

Arabian Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

White-tailed Mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

White-tailed Mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Small-spotted Gennet (Genetta genetta), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Small-spotted Gennet (Genetta genetta), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) juvenile, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) juvenile, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

After a couple of weeks we placed the two remaining cameras into the far desert inlands. Animal densities are definitely lower in this area but a few different animal species are present there as well.

Desert, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus arabs), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus arabs), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Spiny Mouse (Acomys cahirinus), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Spiny Mouse (Acomys cahirinus), Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Throughout camera trapping in Yemen I was surprised by the lack of camera trapping results. It was quite interesting how much more wary the animals are of foreign objects here, I think caused by the constant human pressure on them. As you can see from the pictures as well, most wear taken at night. Animals in Yemen are more nocturnal than in areas where hunting pressures are not as strong. While I was there I heard three live rounds go off, no doubt each time the rifle was aimed at an animal.

Now if only this was an Arabian Leopard

Now if only this was an Arabian Leopard

Conservation Struggles in Yemen

The country of Yemen has amazing natural areas, many of them undiscovered and most definitely under appreciated by the local as well as the international audience. Due to its geographical location, Yemen has many endemic plants while also supporting animals found in Africa as well as Asia. The survival of these species is a fragile one; if the country and its people continue to disregard the potential of these areas they may forever be lost.

A case study for this is the Hawf Protected Area at the border of Yemen and Oman. Due to an escarpment right next to the coast and the seasonal monsoons, a cloud forest persists at this location. Beyond the initial mountain range, the normal desert ecosystem of the area exists.

Cloud forest and escarpment, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest and escarpment, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert wadi (valley) system at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert wadi (valley) system at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

In these habitats you can find endemic plant and animal species like Golden-winged Grosbeaks, South Arabian Wheatears, Tristam’s Starling, and Desert Rose Plants.

Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Tristram's Starling (Onychognathus tristramii) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Tristram’s Starling (Onychognathus tristramii) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

South Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

South Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) plant at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) plant at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Not to mention, the ocean is simply beautiful, warm, clear, and provides its own unique wildlife.

These ecosystems are under much pressure though, it seems like all the environmental issues one can throw at an environment are impacting these ones.

There is hunting pressure of predators, large ungulates, and small game. Increased roads provide better access to formerly inaccessible nature areas. Overgrazing by camels, cows, sheep, and goats leave less for native herbivores.  Logging of trees destroys the dense cover needed by many species. Finally, pollution, specifically trash that is thrown anywhere and everywhere, can cause direct effects on animals as well as simply making an area less attractive to tourists.

Hunter with Kaloshnikov, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Hunter with Kaloshnikov, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road dissecting forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road dissecting forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road and livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road and livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel feeding on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel feeding on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel browsing on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel browsing on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cows grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cows grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sheep grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sheep grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Clear cut area, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Clear cut area, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Trash in Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Trash in Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

And the ecotourism potential in this area is huge. The people are willing to host foreigners and openly welcome them. The environment is gorgeous and provides a home for many endemic species as well as charismatic megafauna like Arabian Leopards, Striped Hyenas, Arabian Wolves, Honey Badgers!!!, Sea Turtles, and Dolphins.

This is why the work that David Stanton of the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen is doing is so important. By focusing on a large predator as the Arabian Leopard he ensures that if he is successful, the large scale habitat it needs to survive protects not only the cat, but all the species that call that environment their home as well. Coupling that with convincing the local people that tourist money is a whole lot more than they can get for selling a goat has the real potential of benefiting both the people and the wildlife there. Though it is an uphill battle, David is fighting it well and I personally think he is undertaking the correct steps to lead to a better Yemen for humans and animals alike. You can personally help out by donating to David’s foundation by contacting him at his email address contact@yemenileopard.org

David Stanton and Yousuf Mohageb giving workshop on the benefits of protecting the Arabian Leopard, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

David Stanton and Yousuf Mohageb giving workshop on the benefits of protecting the Arabian Leopard, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Yemen: A Different Culture

Though one can do as much reading about a place they have never visited before they embark, one never knows what it is truly like until they arrive. Enter military guards, anti-government soldiers, ‘ancient’ architecture, and a whole new set of smells. Arriving in Sana’a was truly a very unique experience for me. I didn’t have much time to explore as we left for the Arabian Leopard research area of the Hawf Protected Area the next day.

Stone buildings of Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Stone buildings of Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel walking across road in Hawf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen - Yes, this is normal

Camel walking across road in Hawf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen – Yes, this is normal

Enter a small town, no soldiers, less guns, few cars, one restaurant, and again a whole new set of smells. Hawf is located right near the border of Yemen and Oman, right at the south eastern part of Yemen. The people are extremely friendly, welcoming, and giving. This area is not quite as conservatively Muslim as the more western parts of the country and much of the clothing is influenced by Oman.

Yemeni man wearing head scarf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Yemeni man wearing head scarf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sa'ad, our driver in Hawf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sa’ad, our driver in Hawf, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boys near mosque, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boys near mosque, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Though the ‘city’ of Hawf only consists of about 700 people, there is still a big difference between the people who spend most of their time there versus the Bedouins that live in the mountains. Since the city is located right on the water, fishing plays a large part in the culture. This includes

Ali, a local fisherman making fishing net, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Ali, a local fisherman making fishing net, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Fisherman bringing fish to shore at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Fisherman bringing fish to shore at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Selling fish at the market, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Selling fish at the market, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Fisherman tossing sardines for drying, to be used as Camel food, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Fisherman tossing sardines for drying, to be used as Camel food, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boy hooking worm for fishing from shore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boy hooking worm for fishing from shore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boy fishing from shore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Boy fishing from shore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

There, you can also find some of the more usual things in a small city.

Making bread in city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Making bread in city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Mechanic under car, Yemen

Mechanic under car, Yemen

Grocery store and owners, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Grocery store and owners, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Appliance store, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Appliance store, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

The Bedouin life however is much different. It is much more dependent on the surrounding environment as they move their encampments with the seasons. Daily life consists of making bread, feeding and watching camels, and of course drinking lots of tea.

Bedouin camp, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin camp, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Older Bedouin, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Older Bedouin, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin making bread, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin making bread, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin feeding Camel ground up sardines, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin feeding Camel ground up sardines, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin making tea, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Bedouin making tea, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

In the end though, the Yemeni culture is deeply rooted in helping one another out and sharing time and belongings with each other. Friendships and familial relationships are the most important and anything and everything is done to maintain those bonds. When looking at this culture, independent from any other culture, the importance of community and selfishness becomes quite apparent.

Volunteers helping to pull boat ashore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Volunteers helping to pull boat ashore, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Dinner shared between friends, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Dinner shared between friends, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen