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Posted On: 29 September 2020 10:30 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:08 pm

Qommunity Voices: Discover the great outdoors with Qatar Natural History Group (QNHG)

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What better way to explore Qatar than to discover its secrets? And by secrets we mean, the natural kind. There's definitely a lot you can learn from a country's flora, fauna, environment, as well as ecological, geological, and archaeological wonders. Qatar Natural History Group, one of the oldest volunteer groups in the country, brings to light the country's fascinating natural environment for more than 40 years now.

To learn more about the group and its activities, we reached out to QNHG's Chairman, Dr. Thierry Lesales for an interview which you can read below!

ILQ: Who founded QNHG and why was it founded? What is the group's mission?

QNHG: Qatar Natural History Group was inaugurated on Wednesday, November 8, 1978. The founding president of the group was Mr. Jassim Zaini, Director of the then Department of Tourism and Archaeology, at the Ministry of Information. But the idea of a club or society about Natural History in Qatar was launched in February 1978.

QNHG aims to bring together people with an interest in the natural history of Qatar and the Arabian Gulf. It is an opportunity not only to learn more about the flora, the fauna, the ecosystems, the history of Qatar but also to contribute to this knowledge, through our observations and findings during our outings.

Flamingos are winter visitors, but some birds can stay during the summer months. (Image: QNHG)

ILQ: What are the activities being held by QNHG?

QNHG: We hold monthly meetings, where speakers give a presentation on various topics related to the nature and the culture of Qatar or the region. Among the topics that can be introduced are ornithology, marine biology, geology, geography, desert plants, ecology, wildlife, history, and archaeology of the Qatari peninsula or the region.

We also organize regular outings. They can be related to the topic previously presented by the speakers, or they can allow us to discover some little known parts of Qatar, and observe the flora and fauna of a specific ecosystem. Bird watching is also very popular among QNHG members, so we have regular birding trips throughout our season. We are also trying to develop some useful skills among our members, and we organize some workshops on photography and 4x4 driving skills in the desert. We can also engage in site cleanups when it is possible.

The group's season usually runs from October to June. This year, because of the pandemic, we had to move our talks online, using the Zoom platform, and stop our outings. But as soon as the restrictions were gradually lifted in August, we were very happy to enjoy the outdoors, discovering Qatar in the summer, with sunrise or sunset walks in the desert and a stargazing evening.

Stargazing during the Perseids Meteor Shower (Image: QNHG)

ILQ: How can people join QNHG? Is it open to everyone? Who should join?

QNHG: We welcome everyone at QNHG, whether they are curious to learn more about their host country or have a passion for the natural environment. Citizens and residents are all welcome to join and contribute to the group. Children are welcome to participate in our activities whenever it is safe to do so.

ILQ: What can members benefit from joining QNHG?

QNHG: Our talks are free and open to the public. Anyone can attend. But our rambles, other outings, and activities are for members only. The small membership fees help the group with administrative and other small expenses.

A desert hare in a rawdat during a sunrise walk in the desert. (Image: QNHG)

ILQ: Please tell us also about yourself. How long have you been in Qatar and what do you do aside from being QNHG's Chairman?

QNHG: I have been in Qatar for 6 years now. I am a geographer, and I have a passion for the outdoors. I enjoy biking, diving, and hiking. I work as a journalist for a Qatari radio station, where I produce and present some shows on the environment, and cover stories mostly related to the environment and sustainability. I feel quite privileged to witness and report the changes that the country is going through in terms of eco-awareness. More green initiatives are being implemented in the country.

ILQ: How did you get involved with QNHG?

QNHG: I found out about the group and its activities, through its website, even before traveling to Qatar, and I was very excited to learn about them. It was the perfect opportunity to discover Qatar and the desert environment. I arrived in Qatar in September, went to their first talk of the season, in October, and decided to inquire about volunteer opportunities at the end of the talk. They needed a PR representative. That’s how I joined the Steering Committee.

ILQ: What's the biggest difficulty that QNHG has faced? What is the group's biggest achievement?

QNHG: Every new season is a challenge. Because we have such a high turnover in Qatar, we lose many active members. And, we can tell the crisis has hit hard in the past couple of years. Fortunately, we also have new members joining and willing to make a difference in the group's success.

Throughout the years, QNHG members have made some interesting contributions to the recording of Qatar’s fauna and flora. For instance, in June 1999, we had the first recording of the Leaf-nosed snake Lytorhynchus Diadema and in April 2007, the discovery of a colorful sea slug, belonging to the Chromodoris species.

ILQ: What's next for you and for QNHG?

QNHG: We look forward to our 2020-2021 season. We have planned many outdoors activities, respecting social distancing. We also believe that our group can help raise awareness about the environment, and why we need to preserve it.

We could also contribute to making FIFA 2022 a success, promoting the beautiful Qatari natural heritage. People visiting Qatar could be amazed to discover and learn about the plants and the animals who thrive in the harsh conditions of the desert and the marine environment.

ILQ: Do you have any message for the people of Qatar?

QNHG: People of Qatar come from all over the world, and we need to realize that the planet is not just facing a pandemic. We are also facing a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis. These crises are the consequences of our actions, our lifestyle. We need to care for our environment, preserving its resources.

There is a problem with the waste left in the environment. From cigarette butts to masks, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and cans dumped on the beaches or in the desert, this is pollution. It is not just an eye-sore, but it can affect the well-being of the wildlife. We should do better.

Cover image: QNHG participants during our Purple Island Sunrise walk in August 2020 (Image from QNHG

The mangrove: a fascinating ecosystem between the desert and the sea. (Image: QNHG)

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Have you heard of Qatar Natural History Group? Have you taken a trip with them or listened to the talks? Let us know in the comments! If you or you know someone who's interested to learn more about Qatar's natural history, don't forget to send them this article!

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