ABU DHABI // With financial support from Abu Dhabi, conservationists have started to build the first of 5,000 artificial nests in the Mongolian steppes in a bid to increase the number of breeding Saker Falcons. The Saker Falcon population has been declining rapidly due to capture for the falconry trade, loss of habitat and pollution.
Work on the project is already under way and, by the end of October, the conservationists hope to have all the nests erected within a wilderness area of 25,000 square kilometres. The project, which is being conducted at a cost that was not disclosed, is a collaboration between the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Mongolia's Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism. Work is to be carried out by the International Wildlife Consultants and its Mongolian partner, the Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre.
"EAD is leading global efforts to save one of the world's most endangered falcons the population of which has dwindled globally to a mere 2,000 to 5,000 pairs," said Majid al Mansouri, the organisation's secretary general. With large areas of open grasslands, the Mongolian steppes are an important area for Saker Falcons, offering abundant prey. However, the lack of trees or rocks there make it difficult for the birds to nest.
By building the nests, the programme hopes to enable birds that, if nature were to take its course, would not have had a chance to breed. The artificial nests are made of large metal cans, raised off the ground with rods, with openings created so that the birds can go in and out comfortably. It is hoped that, by 2015, the nests will act as homes for up to 500 pairs of Saker Falcons, producing at least 1,500 chicks.
The Saker, or Falco cherrug, falcon species is an important symbol of Emirati heritage. Locally known as Hurr, meaning free, this species is the second largest falcon in the world and one of the most resilient. It is preferred by Gulf falconers for its ability to adapt well to the harsh desert conditions. Hunting with falcons is an important part of UAE culture. Traditionally falconers here, as in other Gulf countries, would trap falcons at the beginning of the hunting season and release the birds before summer. But in recent years hunters have started keeping their birds permanently. This has lead to a further decline of the birds' numbers.