Mohammed Saleh Al Baidani, Director General IFHC, said: “As long as the Houbara is at risk, the future of traditional falconry is also at risk. The best hope for the preservation of the Houbara in the wild are the programmes being run by IFHC. In turn preservation of the Houbara helps maintain our traditions and brings the balance back to our environment realising Sheikh Zayed’s vision.”
In 2010 Falconry was listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage to Humanity. In the UNESCO citation falconry is “recognised by its community members as part of their cultural heritage, is a social tradition respecting nature and the environment, passed on from generation to generation, and providing them a sense of belonging, continuity and identity.”
The ancient practice of hunting Houbara with falcons was a necessary survival skill dating back thousands of years for the indigenous Bedouin people who lived in the harsh climate of the desert. However, populations of Houbara bustard were dramatically reduced by illegal hunting, poaching and human development. And the very existence of the Houbara was under threat by the latter half of the 20th century. The Houbara is now listed on the IUCN’s list of endangered and threatened species.
The late President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a keen falconer, first noticed that the numbers of Houbara in the wild were decreasing at an alarming rate. He established a captive-breeding programme for Houbara in the late 1970s to try and reverse this problem and IFHC was formed in 2006 to oversee and coordinate these efforts.
Since that time, a global strategy run by IFHC has produced 89,549 Asian and North African Houbara, of which 57,115 have been released into the wild. The future target for IFHC is to breed and release 50,000 North African and Asian Houbara bustard per year.
Mohammed Saleh added: “Although the focus of the festival is on falconry, we need to recognise the role of the Houbara in our culture and traditions and in bringing balance to our environment. Restoring sustainable wild populations of the Houbara bustard will return our ecosystem for future generations to levels our predecessors enjoyed. This will benefit not only falconers, but our whole community.”
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