Abu Dhabi: When you hear about efforts for water conservation in the 1940s and a ban on hunting wildlife and deployment of rangers to enforce that ban in the 1960s, one may think that these all were initiatives in a developed nation.
However, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE, had spearheaded such efforts even before the formation of the nation.
“That’s why he is considered one of the world’s greatest conservationists. His foresight and vision long preceded the present-day global conservationists’ movement,” Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary-general of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), told Gulf News.
In 1966, when he became Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Shaikh Zayed created the Association for Animal Welfare. This group of rangers patrolled the deserts to oversee the implementation of the ban on the hunting of wildlife. The gazelle, wild dove and hare populations were the immediate beneficiaries, she said.
Nationwide approach to conservation
In those days [before the founding of the UAE], as the Arabian Oryx neared extinction, Shaikh Zayed arranged for the capture of two breeding pairs of the Arabian Oryx to form the nucleus of a captive breeding programme.
Today, almost 50 years later, thanks to the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Arabian Oryx Reintroduction Programme by the EAD, the number of Arabian Oryx in the UAE has increased to over 10,000, of which 5,000 are in Abu Dhabi emirate, Al Mubarak said.
That’s why he is considered one of the world’s greatest conservationists. His foresight and vision long preceded the presentday global conservationists’ movement.”
- Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak | Secretary-general of EAD
After the establishment of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed was able to ensure that his concern for conservation took on a nationwide approach. He issued the necessary legislation and established several conservation organisations.
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital: In the early 1980s, he established a small falcon hospital in Al Khazna outside Abu Dhabi. This was transformed into the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in 1999 supported by the EAD. Today it is the largest falcon hospital in the world and a leader in avian medicine, Al Mubarak said.
Houbara Breeding Programme: It began in Al Ain Zoo in 1977 where the first hatch was announced in 1982.
National Avian Research Centre: In 1989, the centre started a breeding programme for the Asian houbara, which produced over 200 birds in 2004. The long-term objective, determined by Shaikh Zayed himself, was to produce 10,000 Asian houbara a year, most to be released to supplement wild stocks, Al Mubarak said.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve: In 1998, after Shaikh Zayed observed the successful breeding of the flamingo for the first time at the reserve, he established the site as a protected area, to be managed by the EAD.
Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation: In Morocco, Shaikh Zayed set up the Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation in 1995, to breed houbara for release into the wild. Increasing success over the years saw a total of 2,150 birds raised in 2004 as part of a strategy to produce 5,000 birds every year by 2007, Al Mubarak said.
International recognition for Shaikh Zayed’s environmentalism
Abu Dhabi: Shaikh Zayed’s efforts for environment were recognised around the world, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak said. He received international accolades such as the Environment and Development Award in 1993, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Award for Agricultural Development in 1995, the Golden Panda Award from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1997, a top award from the French government for combating desertification in 1998, the UNESCO Environment Chair, the Arab League Scarf for Development and several others.
In 2005, one year after his passing, the United Nations Environment Programme honoured Shaikh Zayed posthumously with the ‘Champion of the Earth’ award for his outstanding wildlife conservation efforts both inside the UAE and around the world, as well as his efforts in agriculture, forestation and preserving biodiversity.