The birds were stuffed inside bags and then hidden inside a spare tyre.


UAE Customs rescues 11 Asian Houbara bustards


ABU DHABI – UAE Customs officials in Ras Al Khaimah have foiled a smuggling attempt on the Al Darah border checkpoint with Oman after finding endangered birds stuffed inside a spare tyre.

Customs officials seized twelve houbara bustards from the incident on January 22. Officials said the birds’ wings were taped up, and they were stuffed inside bags and hidden inside a spare tyre.

The International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) said one of the original 12 houbaras was extremely sick and had to be euthanised.

A post-mortem examination revealed the female bustard had suffered damage to both wings and numerous internal organs, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys and thyroid glands. The report also revealed Aspergillomas – a clump of mould – in its lungs, while microbiology reports came back positive for E.Coli.

Smuggled houbara typically carry diseases and suffer tremendous stress from capture and illicit transportation. The knock-on effect is that severely sick houbara can endanger the lives of falcons during hunt training.

The illegal houbara trade represents a serious sanitary threat for the entire fauna, including falcons. With only one in 10 wild houbara surviving being smuggled across the UAE border, the illegal trade is a significant factor in the historic houbara population decline and, therefore, a major threat to traditional Arabian falconry.

“Had the infected smuggled houbara been eaten by a falcon it may have proven fatal to the raptor, so we thank our Customs and Quarantine colleagues in Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai for the diligent and professional care they showed these vulnerable creatures,” said His Excellency Majid Ali Al Mansouri, IFHC’s Managing Director.

With the 11 remaining bustards cleared of contagious diseases during IFHC’s medical examinations, the recovering flock is responding well to rehabilitation and treatment ahead of their future release into the wild.

“Our plan is to release the birds following the completion of their rehabilitation,” said Al Mansouri. “As a migratory species, if we release them in the UAE we are giving them a chance to complete their migration back to their breeding ground. All birds will be fitted with satellite transmitters to monitor their movement and future migration.”

Under UAE law, smugglers face a potential fine of Dh20,000 to Dh50,000, and imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months. The far greater threat, however, lies in the potential health implications for falcons.

“Smuggling animals is a deplorable act and the Fund condemns the actions of the individuals in this case. Falconers need to understand they are putting their prized raptors at risk by exposing them to smuggled houbara which often carry lethal diseases,” added Al Mansouri.

History of houbara conservation efforts

To counteract decades of declining houbara population numbers across the 28 countries in the species’ range, the UAE has led global conservation for more than 40 years. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE, initiated a dedicated breeding programme in 1977.

The government-backed programme evolved further when Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, founded the IFHC in 2006. The Fund now boasts dedicated breeding and conservation facilities in the UAE, Morocco and Kazakhstan.

To date, the Abu Dhabi-backed houbara breeding programme has produced in excess of 420,000 birds with more than 300,000 for conservation release and falconry regulation.

Of these, more than 58,000 birds have been provided to falconers in the last 15 years to tackle the illegal houbara smuggling trade as practicing falconry on captive-bred houbara alleviates hunting pressure on wild populations and reduces sanitary risks. GAD/Expat Media


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