Dubai Students Spot Rare Patagonian Mara Among 3,600 Animals, Birds In A Week

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Wed 10 Jul 2024, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jul 2024, 10:32 PM

A rare Patagonian Mara, a relatively large rodent, caused a sensation among students when pupils at a Dubai school, known for their deepening passion for the natural world, identified it.

Jebel Ali School (JAS) students joined forces to gather more than 3,600 local wildlife records during a week-long event they named the 'bioblitz battle'.

Children across all year groups, their families, and staff participated in this fun outdoor activity where they went searching and snapping quick photos of insects and birds between lessons, and parents raced out the school gates to drive to locations like Al Qudra Lakes, as the bioblitz fever took hold of the school.

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How does it work?

The nature initiative is a collaborative citizen science endeavour and a 'race against time.'

Participants strive to identify and record as many different species of living organisms as possible within a set timeframe and specific location.

Surrey, a Year 5 student recounted the experience. She said,“I spotted it near Al Qudra Lakes. It was drinking water and my dad mistook it for a deer but then we realised it was actually a Patagonian Mara, a cross between a rabbit and a capybara. It was really cool because it's very rare.”

Parent and PTA member, Aysin Ulug Pekince, said,“The House Bioblitz Battle helped us realise that even a dry, hot desert has a vibrant ecosystem. It has positively impacted our mental health by piquing curiosity and encouraging outdoor ventures. Taking action with our children – in the name of science and our environment – has been incredibly enjoyable.”

Shedding light on the initiative Alan Smith, Sustainability Lead and STEAM Teacher at JAS explains the importance of providing opportunities such as bioblitzes.

“True sustainability starts with a love of the natural world. Students use this app which incorporates artificial intelligence (AI). So they click the photo of an animal or a plant and the AI in the app will help identify it. Additionally, the bioblitz battle transforms the concept into a game, offering an exciting opportunity for students and parents to forge deeper connections with the natural world.”

Custom-built web app

Meanwhile, recognising early, the opportunity to elevate these bioblitz events the school approached its Parent Teacher Association (PTA) with the proposal to fund this custom-built web app to infuse a fun, competitive element – introducing points for species depending on how common or rare they are, as well as bioblitz teams and a live league table.

Smith added,“When this rare Patagonian Mara was spotted in Al Qudra, there was a lot of excitement around it and families of the school community rushed to the spot to catch a glimpse of this rare species that they tried capturing in their phones.

“Across different events students and their families have been recording and sharing captivating sights whether it's on the balcony or the school grounds or walking to the park. It's easy to forget that there's wildlife all around us.”

Inter-school competitions

Recently, the school entered into a competition with the Safa community school and they together made another 2,700 observations.

“It's a very innovative way of getting people outdoors looking for nature. We call this the 'Nature Wave' way of connecting people to nature. We want to help make a wave of nature connection. Otherwise, children just stay at home watch TV, and play on the computer. This is really important. We had 100 families join in when we competed with Safa Community School, so it was another big event.”

The British curriculum school is now looking forward to its 'Nature Connection for Sustainability and Wellbeing Conference', in January next year.

“Our PTA is helping me to arrange it. The idea is also to help (other) schools connect more with nature for sustainability through fun, citizen science games like these.”

Citizen science observations

This achievement accounts for 10 per cent of all citizen science observations previously recorded on the global iNaturalist platform in the country, making it one of the largest 'citizen science' events ever witnessed in the region.

“Scientists around the world use iNaturalist data for research and conservation work, so individuals participating in bioblitzes transform into real 'citizen scientists' and make valuable contributions,” he added.


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