The International Fund for Houbara Conservation makes its mark
The International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) is dedicated to the often hunted Houbara Bustard. Andy Mills gets an insight into the project that will have a presence at this year’s ADIHEX held at ADNEC.
Crouched, hidden and motionless in the desert scrubland a Houbara Bustard senses danger. Above it a falcon hovers, its well-trained eyes scanning the floor, trying to detect the Houbara’s large but well-camouflaged body. The Houbara makes a move and reveals its position; the falcon dives. Darting sporadically from left to right the remarkably agile prey makes for a tricky target. Eyes still fixed, the falcon twists and turns mid-flight, instant angle changes needed as the scampering Houbara darts for cover. A moment later and talons grab air as the elusive Houbara evades being lunch for another day.
Only the best falcons can catch a Houbara Bustard because, despite their size, their speed and colouring make them extremely tricky prey, even when they’re in flight. This fact, coupled to their being a vital source of meat, made them prized quarry for Arabian falconers for over 1,000 years.
Unfortunately poaching, unregulated hunting and urbanisation in the latter half of the 20th century have taken their toll and now Houbara Bustard numbers in the wild are greatly diminished. However, their importance to the heritage of the Bedouin people and their traditional role in helping them to survive the desert conditions means their conservation is of great significance to the community.
This is where the International Foundation for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) comes in, a project that aims to restore and maintain Houbara numbers not just in the UAE but in all African and Asian regions, where the numbers of the migratory bird have declined. Breeding programs have already seen great success with a large number of birds released into the wild, but the mission doesn’t stop there.
‘The outlook for the Houbara is not only dependant on the work IFHC is doing today, but also upon sustained future effort. By raising awareness and educating future generations on the importance of conserving the endangered bird we provide the Houbara with a better chance of survival,’ says Mohammed Saleh Al Baidani, director general of the IFHC.
To help spread the story of the Houbara and let people know what is being done to conserve this regionally important bird, the IFHC will have an impressive stand at ADIHEX (September 4-7) this year. Visitors will be able to see live Houbaras for themselves and learn more about the food they eat, how they are bred in captivity, and even how they can help with the conservation project. It will also give an insight into how the captive-bred birds are monitored once released into the wild, an integral part of the project as it builds a greater understanding of their range and the type of environment Houbara thrive in.
If you’re bringing children along then they can also learn about the Houbara in a specially dedicated kids’ corner too, where there will be a showcase of the work done with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC). In fact the IFHC has even been working with ADEC to integrate educational information about conserving the bird into the school curriculum; such is the intrinsic link between the bird and the heritage of the area. And there might even be the chance to have your photo taken with a large human-sized mascot of a Houbara too. International Federation of Houbara Conservation, www.houbarafund.org (02 693 4455).Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition, September 4-7, www.adihex.net.
What else to see at ADIHEX
Beauty contests That’s right, you can marvel at the finest falcons and most superb saluki dogs in these two separate pageant competitions.
Camel auction Rather than travelling out to see camels being sold-off, ADIHEX brings the sights and the smells of a camel auction to the city.
Arabic brewing competition We’re not sure what this entails, but considering how seriously coffee is taken out here you can imagine the competition will be hot!
Horsepower Along with an equestrian show visitors can also check out some cool all-terrain vehicles and SUVs.
Houbara conservation facts and figures
• In 2012, 17,262 of the North African species and 13,408 of the Asian species were bred.
• In the past 16 years 91,000 North African Houbara’s and 29,000 of the Asian birds have been hatched in the breeding programmes.
• 54,000 Houbara were released back into the wild in North Africa by the end of 2011.
• 3,000 captive-bred Houbara have been released into the UAE since 2004.
• 50 percent is the average survival rate one year after release.
• Target of 50,000 birds to be released in total every year.