Pupils taught to protect bird key to Emirati heritage

Efforts to conserve the UAE's populations of the houbara bustard first began 40 years ago

Asian houbara bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii)
- IUCN status: Vulnerable
- Liking areas with sparse shrubby vegetation, it lives from the Middle East, including the UAE, to East Asia
- Has suffered very rapid population declines, with fewer than 100,000 found worldwide. Courtesy International Fund For Houbara Conservation
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Pupils across the UAE will learn about the importance of nature conservation by studying the country’s long-standing efforts to save a species of bird from extinction.

Numbers of the houbara bustard, which has traditionally been favoured as prey in falconry, have dwindled over the years due to the sport.

It is now classed as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Over the past 40 years, the UAE has been involved in a project to restore populations of the bird in the wild after Sheikh Zayed, the Founder of the UAE, initiated a successful breeding programme.

The first chick was born in 1982 and by 2016 more than 50,000 chicks were born each year. Around 350,000 chicks have been bred since the programme’s inception.

In 2006, the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) was set up by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to accelerate the country’s conservation efforts.

And now the IFHC has teamed up with the Ministry of Education to teach pupils about the importance of the bird to the country’s heritage and the need to protect it.

“Last year, the IFHC worked hand in hand with the Ministry of Education to have a programme in our schools,” said the Minister of education, Hussain Al Hammadi at an event to launch the national education programme on Tuesday.

“This is the result of the programme — though it’s small it has great impact on our pupils as they care about sustainability and the environment.”

Last year, seven schools across the Emirates were chosen to take part in a pilot project to incorporate the topic into their teaching. One of the schools involved, Al Ittihad National Private School in Khalifa City A, explored the houbara in Arabic Social Studies, to art, English lessons and even maths.


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“In the art lesson we had pictures and models,” said Sohir Elkhoueri, the school’s environmental co-ordinator.

“Within the maths lessons they did some calculations about the conservation. During biology lessons we spoke about the egg hatching and how it grows. We also integrated it within English lessons. They wrote a letter inviting the houbara to a dinner party and they were discussing with the houbara what kind of meal they need to prepare for it.”

Other subjects to cover the topic included social science, which studied the migratory patterns of the birds, said Ms Elkhoueri.

The pupils enjoyed learning about the importance of conserving the houbara as the bird is central to their heritage — the school predominantly comprises Emiratis, she said.

“It is part of their national identity,” said Ms Elkhoueri.

But conserving the wild bird populations is not about ending hunting involving the houbara, she said.

“It is designed to not only to conserve not only the bird, but the culture of hunting as well,” she said.

“A long time ago, the populations used to regulate themselves because people weren’t able to go deep in the desert.”

But with the advent of GPS technology and more powerful off-road vehicles, houbara could be reached, and hunted, everywhere.

“So the numbers started decreasing a lot and they were close to being extinct,” said Ms Elkhoueri.

Schools taking part in the pilot project gave the Ministry of Education feedback on what worked best ahead of the roll-out across the country.

“One of the tools is a guide for teachers and a website to provide diversification to teach our pupils in the best methods,” said Majid Ali Al Mansouri, the managing director of IFHC at the launch event in Abu Dhabi.

“The programme familiarises our students with the challenges of the future to give them hope for success through maintaining and preserving the houbara bird.”

Endangered animals of the UAE: