UAE and Mongolia take steppes to protect falcons

Dh8.6m agreement will fund construction and monitoring of 5,000 artificial nests on Asian steppes to help save wild saker falcon from hunters.

ABU DHABI // The UAE and the government of Mongolia have signed a deal to nurture an animal important to the heritage of both: the saker falcon. In a £1.5 million (Dh8.6m) agreement signed yesterday, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) will work to boost the number of chicks of the saker falcon (Falco cherrug) by building 5,000 artificial nests on the central steppes of Mongolia. Scientists will monitor their development over the next five years, and the cost will include salaries for Mongolians, which will provide an incentive to protect rather than poach the birds of prey.

Mohammad Ahmad al Bowardi, the secretary general of the Executive Council and the managing director of the EAD, said he was already encouraged by the efforts of other environmental agencies and the Mongolian government. "We are very proud of this relation," Mr al Bowardi said to Luimed Gansukh, the Mongolian minister of nature, environment and tourism. "This will drive all other relations. Between nations, usually political relations come first. This is the first time where environment and wildlife are leading the social and economic development."

Nicholas Fox, a raptor biologist and director of International Wildlife Consultants, said the Buddhist principles of the Mongolian people have traditionally helped the birds flourish because people simply leave them alone. But trappers who hunt for the birds have caused their decline. "As long as we keep the nests in proper condition, the falcons will do the rest themselves," Mr Fox said. Andrew Dixon, the head of research for the consultancy, said that in wildlife trade, enforcement was difficult because of "porous" borders. With Abu Dhabi's help, the Mongolian government will be able to monitor the birds. Mr Dixon said he hoped the incentives to let the birds flourish would push more farmers and nomadic grazers in Mongolia to report illegal trappers.

"The only way to prevent it is to regulate it," Dr Dixon said. "For 20 years we are have been trying to enforce rules in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan but they don't have the capacity to patrol their borders." Although the falcons are found throughout Mongolia, they are mostly concentrated in the flatlands where rodents - their food - are most plentiful. The nests, made of large metal cans on poles, will give them a place to breed and allow scientists to track their growth and development.

The ministers also discussed the commonality of the falcon in each of their countries' heritage. Mr Gansukh said that in the 13th century, when Genghis Khan was establishing his empire, his chosen symbol was the saker. Hunting with falcons is an important part of the UAE's heritage. Sakers are the second-largest falcon in the world. "Success is already being cultivated," Mr al Bowardi said.