The “Summit for the Flyways” conference on bird migration and conservation

The ‘Summit for the Flyways’ conference on bird migration and conservation, organized by BirdLife International and hosted by the Abu Dhabi-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation, IFHC, began three days of discussions here today.

Assad Serhal, Director General of Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, SPNL (BirdLife Partner in Lebanon) participated in the summit.

Migratory birds don’t have an easy life. To get to where they need to be, they have to run the gauntlet of illegal hunting/killingwind turbines, pollution and a panoply of other threats. And these threats are only getting bigger.

During the event, Birdlife released a key publication: The State of the World’s Birds2018. Five years in the making, this highly important journal will provide a snapshot of the health of not only the world’s birds but the ecosystems they represent. Described as “taking the pulse of the planet”, the findings will inform conservation decisions and lend weight to political campaigning in the years to come.

Topics include conservation of the world’s bustard species, implementation of a plan to save the world’s endangered vultures and the conservation of networks of coastal wetlands which are key areas for migratory birds.

Among the bustard species are the Asian and African houbara, the favored quarry for local falconers, and the session was introduced by the Managing Director of the IFHC, Majid Ali Al Mansouri, who explained the UAE’s programme to conserve the species.

This programme, he noted, had first been initiated by the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the 1970s.

“Our conservation approach,” Al Mansouri said, “has always been, and will continue to be, based on the following drivers – long-term commitment, research-led, innovative and pragmatic.” It was essential, he insisted, that the programme should be non-dogmatic and that it should, instead, involve ‘thinking outside the box.’ The Fund, Al Mansouri said, “always adjusts its actions to reflect updated knowledge to reach effective conservation through proactive intervention,” with the objective of ensuring that the species has “a sustainable future in the wild through effective and appropriate conservation programmes and management plans.”

The conservation work in the UAE began, he noted, with the establishment of a unit to breed Houbara at the Al Ain Zoo in 1977, followed by the creation of the Sweihan-based National Avian Research Centre in 1989 and the Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation in Morocco in 1995.

In 2006, the IFHC was founded, under the chairmanship of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The IFHC, Al Mansouri said, had sought “to take the original programme to another level by managing international assets and securing partnerships across the range of the Houbara that encourage sustainable practices to ensure the conservation of the species.”

Following a strategic review last year, the IFHC is now focused on “maximizing the Houbara population in the wild within the capacity of eco-systems, promoting wildlife reserves to sustain and protect existing natural habitats,” Al Mansouri said. The promotion of sustainable hunting practices is also of key importance, he stressed.

Around the world, there are 26 species of bustard, of which no less than 16 are endangered, some being at critical risk of extinction, including the Great Indian Bustard and the Bengal Florican, also the subject of papers presented today. Amongst threats to the birds, speakers noted, are the loss of their preferred habitat, change of land-use, predation by dogs and, a growing threat, collision with wind turbine farms and electric power lines.

The conservation of the species requires multiple responses to a wide range of threats, speakers noted.

In the session on the conservation of coastal wetlands, another paper with a UAE focus, presented by Dr. Salim Javed of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, noted that 48 wetlands had been identified in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, of which half had been classified as being of ‘high importance.’ Among these are the Al Wathba wetland reserve and the Bu Sayayeef coastal reserve, both important sites for the breeding of Greater Flamingoes. Satellite tracking of some birds has revealed important data about their migration routes into the heart of Asia, Javed noted.

The Summit for the Flyways, being held on Yas Island, is being organised in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, 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.

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