Keen birdwatchers can spot everything from Hoopoes and Common Chiffchaffs, which are a type of leaf warbler, to White-cheeked Bulbuls, a medium-sized songbird, as they pass across the windswept peninsula. Qatar has traditional links to falconry, and it is the natural habitat of more than half a dozen species of falcons, with the Saker Falcon being the preferred species for the sport.
It is upon this rich avian background that Qatar is taking steps to protect its resident and visiting bird species. Beyond their beauty and cultural significance, birds hold a special place in the broader ecosystem. According to BirdLife International (BLI), the health of a bird population is a good indicator of the health of biodiversity, reflecting species’ richness and endemism patterns. Changes in bird populations can provide a useful indication of broader environmental change. BLI, one of the largest partnerships of conservation organisations in the world, is taking a step forward in its mission by working with its Qatari partner to open a Gulf country office in Doha, Qatar.
“Now our mission is to empower the GCC [Gulf countries] office to mobilise resources,” Assad Serhal, chairman of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon and Birdlife International Global Councillor for the Middle East Region, said on a recent trip to Doha.
The new office builds on local efforts to promote bird conservation. In 2007, under the umbrella of the Friends of the Environment Centre, the Birds of Qatar Project was started. In 2008, the project teamed up with BLI to work on conservation, awareness, advocacy and migratory monitoring projects. As part of Qatar’s bird conservation effort, in 2009, Sheikha Jawaher Bint Hamad Bin Sahim Al-Thani donated $1 million to set up the Hima Fund, established to provide grants to conserve Important Bird Areas in the Middle East.
“Protection of birds is an integral part of protecting the environment,” Sheikha Jawaher has said of Qatar’s efforts. “We in Qatar have been focusing on organising activities related to the safeguarding of our environment, so that we can achieve a harmony between nature and Man.”
Since the founding of the Hima Fund, the Birds of Qatar Project has moved ahead with important steps, including bringing the message into Qatar’s classrooms with the “My Country Birds” initiative. The scheme, which started in 2010, builds awareness of bird conservation issues by highlighting one native species each year. According to Sadiq Awad Bashir, the director for the project, it has been a great success so far.
The latest move to open the Gulf countries’ office of BLI in Qatar, which is due to open early next year, is yet one more sign of Qatar’s leadership in this field.
“Qatar is playing a big role,” said Mr. Serhal, who added that Qatar has been instrumental in taking the issue of protecting birds beyond the conservation movement to the business and development sectors, pushing them to take seriously the health of bird populations when making development decisions that might affect migratory patterns or Important Bird Areas.
“This new office is going to strengthen our presence in the Gulf, to coordinate our programmes, to mobilise funding, and to help build awareness,” Ibrahim AL Khader, regional director for the Middle East Division of BLI, said.