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Houbara bustard reintroduced into the wild

posted on 02/04/2008: 4580 views

In line with the United Arab Emirate's strategic efforts to increase the number of Houbara in the wild, General/ HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, participated in the release of more than 5,000 North African Houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) in an area of about 300 km inside the Eastern desert of Morocco. The released Houbara had been bred in captivity at the Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP) in Missour, Morocco.

This release is considered to be the largest reintroduction of endangered species into the wild so far. 'Houbara bustard', the specie that has been reintroduced has been seriously threatened by a combination of detrimental factors besides the habitat loss. The Abu Dhabi Government has put in a great deal of effort at conserving the Houbara by building a sound scientific knowledge base about the bird and also by initiating sound management and conservation measures.

The strategy for implementation of the sound conservation and management techniques includes identification and assessment of suitable habitat for Houbara throughout the UAE , monitoring of Houbara population numbers and trends in populations in the UAE and throughout its distribution range; monitoring and assessment of the impact of hunting on Houbara populations in the UAE and its distribution range; initiation and implementation of a captive breeding programme for falconry training and future restocking / re-introduction purposes.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed stated, "this release of the Houbara in North Africa was necessary to meet the continuous decline of Houbara numbers due to the destruction of their wintering and breeding habitat, over trapping and over hunting in addition to illegal trade, all of which require insistent steps to restore a healthy Houbara population in the wild." Efforts to conserve the Houbara started as early as 1977, when the late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan directed that Al Ain Zoo begin a breeding program for the Asian Houbara Bustard, even before the population reached a 'vulnerable' status in the endangered data list. In 1982, the first captive chick saw daylight in the UAE. In 1989, the National Avian Research Centre (NARC) which is now currently spearheading maximum conservation efforts was founded and later incorporated under the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Mohammed added that "the unlimited support of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, to preserve the environment, wildlife and develop natural resources has always given us an incentive to continue working to conserve Houbara from becoming extinct". "We are now very excited to have helped to increase the number of Houbara population in wild".

He noted that the integrated programme set by the UAE, in which the Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP) is participating has made tremendous progress and has already succeeded in creating a self-sustaining captive Houbara population.

Sheikh Mohamed stressed that "the UAE is committed to restoring an unlimited houbara population in the wild". Despite the intense challenges of breeding this shy bird in captivity, the UAE is currently on target to meet its ambitious goal of producing 5,000 birds per year by 2008.

About 35% of the released Houbara (60 birds) were fitted by satellite transmitter to track their movement. Birds chosen to be released were selected from a group of chicks produced by the Centre based on specific criteria. In 2006, the breeding population totalled 8,142 birds.

The Centre followed international standards protocols and procedures before releasing these Houbara, which was the main factor in the success of this release.

The Centre's breeding complex is the headquarters of a vast network of specialized stations distributed over 40,000 km2 in Eastern Morocco. The integrated, state-of-the-art facilities use the latest scientific innovations to breed, acclimate and reintroduce Houbara into the wild. After release, their movements are closely tracked and their behaviour is studied in their natural habitat. One of the project's successes is that it locally grows all the food required by the Houbara population.

Since the ECWP's primary objective is to restore a sustainable wild Houbara population, tracking the released birds and monitoring their behaviour in their natural habitat is crucial. In studying the Houbara's efforts to survive, ECWP scientists monitor everything from weather systems to vegetation and wildlife in the release areas. – Emirates News Agency, WAM


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