SHARJAH // When the falcon swooped towards the group of children most of them ducked. For 6-year-old Maryam Mohammed, it was one of her most exciting moments.
“It flew near Shaima’s face and she bowed down afraid and all of us laughed,” Maryam told her mother and younger siblings.
Maryam is one of many children to have visited Sharjah’s Birds of Prey centre in Kalba, which was opened last month by the emirate’s Ruler, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.
“Birds of prey are popular in Arabian traditions and this centre, that collects several local species, is like an education centre for the local people, their young generations and tourists,” said Gerald Tedd, the unit’s operation manager.
The centre, which employs a dozen staff, is now home to 46 species, from the barn owl and long-legged buzzard to the short-toed snake eagle and lappet-faced vulture.
So far, the birds have proved enticing to the community.
“The turnout has been good recently. The local communities and other Arab people can come again and again for different shows,” Mr Tedd said. “This is a very good addition to their entertainment.”
The Birds of Prey Centre is open six days a week, with live shows most evenings. The shows, around an hour long, focus on the hunting characteristics and habitats of the birds.
Each Tuesday, the birds are given a rest from entertaining and educating the public.
Children under 12 can visit the centre free of charge. Adult tickets are Dh50, while school groups are charged Dh5 per person.
“Kalba is located on one of the major avian flyways,” said Fatima Al Shamsi, director of communications and media at the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (Epaa), which manages the centre. “These are aerial corridors that are used by many birds species to move to the south when it becomes too cold or when their food is getting scarce with the onset of the winter.”
The authority also oversees the Mangrove Al Hafeya Protected Area. It is among the 2,169 Ramsar sites worldwide. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.
Al Hafeya is considered to have the oldest mangrove trees in the UAE and has now been cordoned off from the public in an effort to rehabilitate it, said Ahmed Al Ali, director of protected areas.
“It has not been easy to convince people to leave the area alone,” said Mr Al Ali. “We have asked the coastguard to monitor for us all encroachers from the sea while the police help to keep off people on the land, and last year the security council also passed a resolution on a Dh10,000 fine for anyone who harvests anything on the protected area.”
He said so far, 13 people have been fined.
John Pereira, a researcher at the site, said the ecological functions of the area need to be allowed to make a significant recovery before the area could accommodate visitors. Improvements so far have resulted in increased fish species, and with them more fishing birds are coming to the area.
Currently the area has 321 bird species.
Mr Pereira said Sheikh Sultan has released five gazelles into the area and researchers were observing how well they were coping with life in the wild.