Houbara breeding efforts win international acclaim

A Staff Reporter
Filed on August 31, 2005

ABU DHABI - The efforts of Abu Dhabi emirate to conserve houbara birds have won international acclaim, said Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary-General of the Abu Dhabi Environment Authority.

"Despite the hurdles that impeded houbara breeding projects - given its delicate nature - Abu Dhabi emirate succeeded in multiplying the houbara population through its sustained efforts during the last 28 years," said Mansouri.

He noted that UAE's efforts to conserve the bird stretched as far as North Africa, specifically to Morocco where the UAE is embarking in a massive houbara conservation project.

The country's efforts long preceded international endeavours which have now intensified only after it became crystal clear that the bird fell within the range of endangered species. The international efforts were manifested in the ban of the illegal trade which is governed by CITES and the Bonn conventions. He added that the National Avian Research Centre (NARC) which is affiliated to the Environment Authority will be staging a strong participation at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex 2005).

The centre will showcase its captive-bred birds for the second year in a row. Adihex 2005 will kick off from September 12 under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of State for Foreign and Chairman of the Emirates Falconers' Club.

According to Mansouri, the NARC's participation at the show is prompted by the need to raise awareness on houbara conservation. The centre was established in 1995 and gained reputation as a pioneering project. Some of the factors threatening the houbara include cruel hunting, smuggling, theft and hunting during the breeding season. This is in addition to agricultural expansion and increase in livestock population.

"The increase of livestock population contributes to the dwindling of water and resources green expanses in houbara habitats. The use of chemical in the fields is also another negative factor. The engagement of poachers in illegal trade is also contributing to the rapid decline of houbara birds," he said, noting that illegal traders are active in Iran, Pakistan and Iraq, where they smuggle birds in order to sell them at high prices in the Gulf states.

Mansouri opined that falconry in itself cannot and will not constitute a threat to houbara if practised in a rational and logical manner.

"The problem is that some falconers are practising falconry for reasons of trade and showiness. This makes it imperative for countries which have large houbara population to review their laws," he said.

Commenting on the UAE houbara conservation efforts, Mansouri attributed the UAE success in this field to the vision of the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the modern UAE. His forthright directives paved the way to the establishment of the houbara captive-breeding centre in 1977 and the chick was hatched in 1982.

In 1989, NARC launched a massive programme for the breeding of Asiatic houbara in a bid to strike a balance between sustainable hunting and preservation of traditional values of falconry. The centre succeeded to produce 400 chicks during the 2005 season. This year's rate rose by 180 above the previous rate which stood at 223 chicks. The centre aims to produce 10,000 annually and releases them back to the wild, as envisioned by the late Shaikh Zayed.

The UAE is credited for being the first country to monitor the migration route of houbara to the North and forth through a satellite technology.

The late Shaikh Zayed is also remembered for setting up a houbara breeding centre in 1995 in Morocco. In year 2004, the centre hatched 2150 chick as part of its strategy to produce 5000 yearly, beginning from 2007.

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