Once pushed to the brink of extinction, the Houbara bustard has been the focus of conservation efforts in the UAE since the 1970s. Through new initiatives and programmes designed to engage future generations, this nearly extinct species continues to soar
The UAE government takes its role in our mission to help save the planet very seriously.
According to Environment Vision 2030, established to preserve and enhance Abu Dhabi’s natural heritage, maintaining biodiversity is one of the country’s top priorities – and saving the Houbara bustard is just one way the emirate is winning this battle.
What’s the buzz about the bustard?
The Houbara bustard is a striking, large-bodied bird with long legs and a slender neck. Speckled with sandy brown spots, its upper body contrasts with its smooth, creamy white underneath.
A prey for falcons that is also used in training, Houbara is essential to the art of falconry and an important part of the country’s heritage, history and natural environment.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the UAE, was an avid falconer and conservationist who committed himself to ensuring the bird’s survival when he noticed a decline in its population in the 1970s.
He initiated the Abu Dhabi Houbara programme and that lives on today as the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), a not-for-profit that works to support and increase the Houbara in its natural habitats.
The IFHC is one of the world’s largest conservation projects that oversees an international network of specialised breeding centres, including two in the UAE.
Locally, the organisation has helped increase Houbara numbers through partnerships with schools and businesses and by using the latest technology.
Totally tech’d out
The UAE has used more than 2,600 satellite tracking systems to monitor Houbara movements across the globe.
This tracking initiative, which dates back to the 1990s, has improved the success rates of the breeding scheme by allowing the birds to be monitored in their natural environment.
So how exactly does the process work? Each bird has a lightweight, 45-gram device fitted on its back that sends signals to satellites every four hours. Researchers across IFHC then use this data to draw conclusions about the birds’ behaviour in the wild.
This has led to them discovering fascinating facts, such as how the Houbara bustard travels an average of 6,000 kilometres during its migration season and has three different migration paths.
Ahead of the class
In an effort to encourage young people to observe and be passionate about what’s in the environment around them, IFHC and the Ministry of Education joined forces to add conservation to the UAE’s national curriculum.
This year, the programme has been expanded to include alternative classrooms for UAE students.
An outdoor Houbara-themed tent was piloted at Al Huiteen School, where students took part in activities from IFHC’s handbook and different grades collaborated to build a real-life Houbara habitat.
“Inquiry-based learning within an alternative classroom setting puts students more in control and increases their capacity to learn from their own actions, decisions and choices,” explains IFHC’s managing director, Majid Ali Al Mansouri.
“With our new initiatives, we are hoping to engage and motivate students across the Emirates to discover the importance of the Houbara bustard.
“Our education programme is designed to highlight the need to conserve and protect the species, and its surroundings, to positively impact the country’s wildlife and environmental heritage.”
Plenty of other exciting educational resources have been developed for teachers, including a tracking themed digital game. Schools and educators wanting to take part should contact Ministry of Education, then register their interest with IFHC.
Through these and other initiatives, IFHC is regenerating the Houbara population for future falconers and nature lovers in the UAE.
To learn more about Houbara conservation, visit: houbarafund.org
By Tamara Clarke