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Talks to promote UAE-Pakistan collaboration on houbara conservation

Steps to increase collaboration between the UAE and Pakistan on efforts to revive local populations of the endangered Asian houbara bustard were discussed here today at a meeting between Malik Amin Aslam, the Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on Climate Change, and a delegation from the Pakistan-based Houbara Foundation International, HFI.

The HFI delegation was accompanied by Majid Al Mansouri, a Governor and Rapporteur of the UAE-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation, IFHC.

Pakistani populations of houbara have been hard-hit by hunting and, according to Aslam, “the local houbara bustard has almost gone extinct,” the daily ‘Dawn’ reported after the meeting.

“The IFHC has been successfully breeding houbara bustards in captivity for many years,” Al Mansouri told the Emirates News Agency, WAM. “In Pakistan, we have been releasing birds in collaboration with the HFI since 2015. Now we want to enhance these activities through a direct agreement between the Governments of Abu Dhabi and Pakistan.”

The captive-breeding programme for Asian houbara is being managed by the IFHC through two centres in Abu Dhabi, the National Avian Research Centre, based at Sweihan, and the Sheikh Khalifa Houbara Breeding Centre, at Saih al-Salam. There is also a centre in Kazakhstan. In 2018, the last full year for which figures are available, over 33,600 houbara were bred.

Another programme, for the closely-related North African houbara, is based in Morocco.

The birds being released in Pakistan are descended from birds originally captured from the wild in Pakistan, to ensure that they are genetically compatible.

According to Al Mansouri, release programmes are undertaken in accordance with strict scientific protocols.

“It is essential,” Al Mansouri told WAM, “that any releases are undertaken in accordance with a properly-prepared scientific strategy and in line with international regulations. Export permits for the birds from Abu Dhabi are obtained under the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES. Detailed surveys of potential release sites are undertaken to ensure that suitable environmental conditions are present that will maximise the chances of survival of the released birds. Once released, the houbara are observed and monitored, with their survival rates being recorded as a basis for measuring the success of the progamme.”

The International Fund for Houbara Conservation, IFHC, is a non-profit organisation supported by the Government of Abu Dhabi. It is one of the world’s largest species conservation projects, with its international network of specialised Houbara breeding centres to support and increase wild populations of the bird in its natural habitats across the entire species range.

The Board of Governors of the Fund is chaired by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.