Residents of the United Arab Emirates are frequently caught with illegally-procured wild animals, including an injured cheetah found limping along a road in Abu Dhabi, but Saker Falcons receive first class protection mostly thanks to programs initiated years ago by the late President and avid falconer Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Sheikh Zayed organized the 1st International Conference on Falconry and Nature Conservation in Abu Dhabi in late 1976, and then in 1995, he started the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Program, which prepares trained falcons to re-enter the wild. Falconry protection has been so successful in the UAE that even John Scanlon, the secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), praised the UAE’s efforts at the recent Eye on Earth Summit, according to The National.
Although CITES recognizes that there are “instances [of] high-value species being traded illegally,” Scanlon told The National, it is also true that several valuable efforts are underway to create legitimate trade and protect wild populations.
Not only are Saker falcons in the United Arab Emirates required to have passports which demonstrate that they have been legally obtained, but the country cooperates with other countries that have wild falcon populations – such as Mongolia – to encourage legal trade and transparency.
According to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s website, falconry used to be practiced to supplement the Bedouin diet, but is currently practiced mainly for sport. He adds that Sheikh Zayed initiated the falcon release program out of concern that falcons would otherwise become excessively domesticated.
There are now numerous falcon hospitals scattered throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai that are devoted to ensuring that previously-owned falcons are properly fed and healthy enough to survive once released back in the wild. According to a Wikipedia entry, the UAE spends nearly $30 million each year on preserving their Saker Falcons populations.
There are also two breeding farms in the the United Arab Emirates.
It just goes to show that a country’s collective will to protect a valued endangered species can result in real efforts to do so. Despite hiccups and occasional illegal transactions, we are hopeful that the Saker Falcon conservation success will be applied to other important species in the region.
:: The National
image via wikicommons