At the foot of mountain Jebel Hafeet, in the United Arab Emirates, a group of researchers from seven countries spend their days fighting for the survival of the Arab tahr, a kind of wild goat from the region that is in extinction.
The language used by the group is English, but if someone asks a question in Portuguese, one of them will answer. Amongst the South Africans, Poles, Iraqis, Czechs, Sudanese and Russians is the Brazilian Eduardo Antunes Dias, a veterinary surgeon who left the city of Pelotas, in the south of Brazil, to use his knowledge in preservation of a species barely known in Brazil.
The vet has been working for ten months at Management of Nature Conservation (MNC), a research institute created by the government of the United Arab Emirates one year and a half ago for the preservation of the wild animals.
The offices of the center are in the city of Al-Ain, in Abu Dhabi emirate, at the foot of a mountain that has already been a popular tahr habitat. Dias was invited to work at the institute by the deputy-director at MNC, Geer Schres, with whom the vet was in contact during his academic research about the reproduction of wild animals and the conservation of species.
Dias graduated in veterinary surgery from the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel) and got a masters degree at the University of São Paulo (USP). What attracted the attention of the deputy director at the MNC was the vet’s research on non-invasive techniques for the study of hormone processes in animals.
At the MNC, Dias acts as an endocrinologist and is the head of the Hormone Analysis Laboratory. In practice, what the vet from Pelotas does is research the hormonal characteristics of the tahr, like, for example, the period of its hormonal cycle, its heat period, how climate change affects the animal and its reproductive process.
The difference is that instead of doing this by collecting blood, the researcher collects the feces of the tahr. That is why the technique is called non-invasive. The project includes 42 animals living in captivity at the MNC.
Three animals that live free, the last three on Jabel Hafeet mountain, are also being studied. The animals are in captivity for the purpose of assisted reproduction. The techniques used are in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. According to Dias, the plan is for these animals to be returned to nature in the future.
The Life of the Tahr
As the institute is new, it was Dias himself who set up the Hormone Analysis Laboratory. This, incidentally, was one of the factors that attracted Dias to the country.
"They gave me the opportunity of setting up the endocrinology laboratory that I wanted," he said.
Despite his experience as a researcher and vet, Dias is only 34 years old and also considers himself very motivated by the challenge of working with the conservation of tahrs. "I have great passion for this. For helping species that do not have significant chances in the world today," he said.
Tahrs like living on rocky mountainsides, where they feed from the vegetation. The species became threatened with extinction because of the reduction of its habitat, as humans started living in the mountains, and because of poaching, as the animal’s meat is eaten.
These animals also had to start sharing their source of food with domesticated mountain goats, whose population grew significantly. According to the Brazilian vet, before returning to the mountains, tahrs that are in captivity will have to be readapted to nature. Many of them – 12 – were born at the MNC itself.
Plans for Brazil
Dias intends to spend at least three years in the Emirates. "Logistics and infrastructure here are unparalleled," he said, referring mainly to the funds available in the region for execution of the work.
One of his wishes, however, is to establish an institute turned to reproduction of species threatened with extinction in Brazil. "There is nothing focussing on this area in Brazil," he said. Part of the project includes the creation of a data bank of genetic material of Brazilian species.
While this day does not arrive, however, Dias is going to work on guaranteeing the future of the children and grandchildren of the tahrs of the Emirates. The vet moved to the Arab country together with his wife, Daniela, whom he married little before travelling. He says he finds little difficulty in living in a country that is so far away from Brazil.
"The cultural shock was not so great. The Emirates is an open country, and its population respects the way of life of Westerners," he said.
The city of Al-Ain, where the couple lives, has a population of around 350,000 inhabitants. At the local supermarket, according to Dias, it is even possible to buy typically Brazilian products like cheese bread and mate tea for chimarrão, a drink common in southern Brazil, making him feel closer to Brazil.
Anba – www.anba.com.br