IFHC releases rescued Asian Houbara in Pakistan Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Eleven Asian Houbara rescued in January after a failed smuggling attempt on the UAE’s border with Oman have been successfully released back into the wild by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), the fund announced in a statement on Thursday.

Following extensive medical examinations to assess potential contagious diseases and eight weeks of rehabilitation at the IFHC’s quarantine in Abu Dhabi, the houbara were released in two groups in the Cholistan Desert in Pakistan on March 22. All 11 birds have been fitted with GPS trackers to monitor their movement, the species conversation agency announced.

The first group of five female Asian Houbara were released in Rahimyar approximately 120km from the country’s eastern border with India, while a second group comprising five females and a single male were released approximately 40km south of the city of Khanpur. Three weeks since their release, the bustards’ GPS trackers indicate all 11 houbara are alive and well after rejoining the species’ annual migratory route north.

“Thanks to the swift action of UAE Customs and the expert rehabilitation work of our scientific team, the 11 Asian Houbara have been saved and released with no impact on the UAE’s delicate ecosystem,” said IFHC managing director Majid Ali Al Mansouri.

“The release location in Pakistan was hand-picked to give the bustards the best chance of rejoining their migratory route,” he added

With smuggled houbara typically suffering tremendous stress from capture and illicit transportation, the IFHC’s data shows that only one in 10 wild houbara survives being smuggled across the UAE border. It is also common for smuggled bustards to carry diseases which can have serious sanitary and health implications to falcons that hunt them, and fauna in the wider ecosystem.

As part of the Fund’s ongoing education efforts with the UAE and wider GCC falconry community, the IFHC is engaging falconers to highlight the illegal trade’s role in the historic decline of houbara populations.

Al Mansouri said the Fund will use the rescued 11 Asian Houbara as a case study to educate falconers on the dangers that illegally sourced houbara pose to traditional Arabian falconry.

“Smuggled houbara pose a great danger to the falconry community,” the official explained. “Had these birds been sick and carried diseases into the ecosystem, there would have been a significant risk to prized falcons who can contract fatal infections hunting sick houbara.”

In addition to sanitary and health risks to falcons, fauna and the wider ecosystem, smuggling houbara also carries serious legal ramifications. Under UAE Law No. 11/2002, which relates to the smuggling of endangered animals, convicted smugglers face a potential fine of Dh20,000 to Dh50,000, and imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months.