The houbara bustard is “an iconic species at the heart of our culture,” according to Majid Ali Al Mansouri, the managing director of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, IFHC.
The link between falconry and the houbara is, he added, “deeply embedded in our culture.”
Addressing a dinner this evening to mark the formal opening of the ‘Summit for the Flyways’, an international conference on bird conservation, Al Mansouri told participants that the bird is “a treasure that we aim to sustain as a legacy for future generations.”
The ‘Summit for the Flyways’ is organised by the international conservation organisation BirdLife International, in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, OSME, the Swiss-based Mava Foundation, and the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, CMS. Running until 26th April, it is being hosted by the Abu Dhabi-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation.
Protection of the UAE’s environment has been a constant concern since the foundation of the state in 1971, Al Mansouri said, noting that the late Sheikh Zayed “recognised very early on not only the challenge that rapid development and urbanisation posed to UAE’s fragile natural resources, but also the essential link between the protection of environment and the preservation of UAE’s traditions and cultural identity.”
“Falconry in the UAE has always been more than a sport. It has been an integral part of life on the Arabian Peninsula for centuries,” Al Mansouri added, going on to say that “Sheikh Zayed understood that the transmission of this cultural heritage to future generations was dependent on adjusting hunting practices to the imperatives of preserving the species.”
“That is why he put forward the preservation of the tradition of falconry together with the conservation of the emblematic falcon and houbara as a major goal of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.”
In 1977, more than 40 years ago, Al Mansouri recalled, with the guidance of Sheikh Zayed, a global strategy was developed in Abu Dhabi for the conservation of both falcons and houbara. Since then, significant success has been recorded in houbara conservation programmes.
These programmes, he noted, have an impact that goes far beyond the preservation of the houbara itself.
“Integrated projects contribute to the socio-economic development of the involved regions through the sustainable management of a natural resource, in this case the houbara bustard,” he noted.
Saying that the UAE is committed to the conservation of biodiversity, Al Mansouri noted that one challenge facing conservationists was the need to guarantee a balance between various interests that some consider to be opposed to each other, like customs, traditions, the sustainable use of natural resources and socio-economic development.
The first day of the conference, tomorrow, will focus on the work being undertaken by the IFHC and other organisations on the conservation of the houbara and other related bustard species in Africa, Central Asia, India, China and Europe.