Egypt, UAE work to protect rare bird

Egypt is cooperating with the United Arab Emirates to preserve and protect the threatened Houbara bustard bird species in the North African country.

On June 18, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment will witness the release of Houbara Bustards in al-Ameed Nature Reserve in Marsa Matrouh governorate in the northwest of the country, as part of a project to resettle the bird in Egypt in cooperation with the UAE’s International Fund for Hobara Conservation.

Egyptian Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, Emirati Minister of State for Defense Affairs and deputy chairman of the board of directors of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation Mohammed bin Ahmed al-Bowardi attended the release and resettlement of 2,000 Houbara bustards in Marsa Matrouh, as part of efforts to prevent the birds’ extinction.

Fouad said in a June 18 statement that the release of the Houbara bustards constitutes “a milestone in the Egyptian-UAE cooperation in the protection of biodiversity.” She explained that “the Houbara bustard is present in North African countries, including Egypt.”

According to the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, the bustards make up the Otididae family and are large-bodied birds with long legs and slender necks. Members of the bustard family include the Arabian bustard, Great Indian bustard, Smaller Florican, Bengal Florican, Kori bustard, black-bellied bustard, Australian bustard and the Houbara bustard.

The International Fund for Houbara Conservation was established in the UAE in 2006 and is tasked mainly with increasing the numbers of the wild busard population through breeding to ensure their survival in abundant numbers and preserve their diversity and genetic legacy.

Fouad welcomed the “unprecedented interest in biodiversity.” In her statement during the release of the birds, she added, “The world is on the verge of ratifying the post-2020 global biodiversity roadmap, which includes techniques to preserve and protect endangered species.”

The Egyptian government is scheduled to proclaim a day for nature and biodiversity at the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UN Climate Change Conference that will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, according to Fouad.

Ayman Hamada, head of the Biodiversity Central Department at the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, told Al-Monitor, “The Houbara Bustard was remarkably present in Egypt for decades, as the last documented scientific observations of these species dates back to the 1960s. It was documented in the ornithology books and references in Egypt. Yet their number began to decline significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s, with undocumented observations of this species in recent years.”

Hamada, “The Houbara bustards population began to shrink with time due to a number of reasons, most notably the drought in the northern region of the Western Desert and Wadi El Natrun and Alamein region, the overhunting by the local communities in Egypt and abroad , and the lack of herbs due to climate change that negatively affected their habitat. All of that exacerbated the problem and decreased their numbers.”

He added, “The numbers of the Houbara Bustard began to decline with time to the point of near extinction in Egypt.”

He noted that there is no official data on their number in Egypt at the present time.

The Houbara bustard in North Africa is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals.

“We had to take steps to protect the Houbara bustards. The scientific intervention to reintroduce the same species again in the country is one of the means that was available to us. To this end, we analyzed the genetic material and genetic map of these species that were present here and still exist in very small numbers, so as to avoid the introduction of alien species to the Egyptian environment,” Hamada said.

This is what Fouad noted in her June 18 statement: “The DNA and molecular biology study [of the new Houbara bustards before their release] was conducted, and the results were compared with the reference sample preserved in gene libraries to ensure that it is a local breed that is present or that is used to be present in Egypt in accordance with the environment protection and biodiversity requirements.”

Hamada said that a special program was prepared for the adaptation of the Houbara bustards in Egypt before releasing them into the wild. This is added to planting herbs and establishing an artificial lake to create an artificial environment so that these species in survive their new environment in Egypt and to facilitate their reproduction, he added.

The Egyptian Ministry of Environment’s technical report on the plan to resettle the Houbara bird, which was published by El-Watan newspaper on June 19, stated, “As these birds (Houbaras) were bred in cages before they were released in the natural reserve in Al-Ameed district (in Marsa Matrouh), they got accustomed to life in captivity, which required special treatment upon their release, relying on rehabilitating, monitoring and following up on them after their release.”

The report added that after the release of the 2,000 Houbara bustards, their adaptation to their new environment is monitored and a telemetry system is installed to identify each bird and track and monitor them via special satellite tracking devices.

Commenting on the importance of preserving the Houbara Bustard to prevent their extinction in Egypt, Hamada said that the Ministry of Environment is trying to restore the ecosystem in the Western Desert as it was before because it has lost its ecological balance due to climate change.

He added, “The Houbara bustards would feed on some herbs and some invertebrates such as worms and insects, and the absence of this bird implied an increase in the number of insects and worms, which could cause environmental damage and the spread of pests in agricultural areas.”

“Coordination has been made with the local community (in Marsa Matrouh) to educate the people on the importance of the Houbara bustards, on the need to conserve them and avoid overhunting and subsequent extinction in the future,” Hamada said.

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