Abu Dhabi: The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) has confirmed that nearly 2,000 Saker Falcon chicks were hatched in 2013, as a result of its artificial nesting programme in Mongolia. The project, which is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism in Mongolia, was launched in 2010 with an aim of increasing the wild Saker falcon population.

This announcement was made as the Saker Falcon Task Force – Stakeholders’ Action Planning Meeting concluded Wednesday in Abu Dhabi and which was hosted by EAD. It was held to discuss developments on the Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) Global Action Plan.

In 2010, EAD – on behalf of the UAE Government – signed an agreement with the Government of Mongolia with the aim of building 5,000 artificial nests in the Mongolian steppes in a bid to encourage breeding among the species and increase the world’s population of Saker falcons. EAD reported that 3,700 chicks have been born since the project was first launched.

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of EAD, said the initiative was introduced to promote sustainable breeding practices and to provide birds with safe and secure breeding environments in a bid to boost global population. “I am happy to report that, in addition to the success we have seen with the breeding, we have also built up the capabilities of local biologists and have incorporated an educational programme in schools in Mongolia as well as two schools in Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Education Council,” she said.

Several of the artificial nests placed have been fitted with a camera which records continuously, allowing officials to record the falcons’ eating habits and predator threats. This year, the project has also been extended to address the problem of Saker falcons being threatened by power line electrocution – a major cause of falcon mortality in Mongolia and China - which affects almost one falcon each week. Officials took a number of steps to address this issue including adding insulation covers on the power lines.

“By leading global efforts to save one of the world’s most endangered falcons, we can help boost population numbers for a fragile species whose population has dwindled globally to a mere 11,000 pairs. By working with the Mongolian government, we are achieving our common vision of preserving this endangered species and safeguarding an important symbol of Emirati culture and heritage,” Al Mubarak added.

Locally known as ‘Hurr’, meaning free in Arabic, the Saker falcon is the second largest falcon in the world and is also considered one of the toughest. They are the most well suited falcon for Arab falconry, due to their adaptability to desert climates and their resilience. Their willingness to engage in ground combat with their prey makes for a fierce and reliable hunter. The Saker falcon is predominantly a bird of open landscapes, occupying a diverse range of habitats from agricultural land, steppe, deserts and semi-deserts and mountains. Saker falcons are the most commonly used raptor by Arab falconers.