A Houbara bustard pair. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the cycling underpass at Seih Assalam Road in Al Qudra, near the last exit at Al Qudra, has been designated as Houbara Tunnel, the Dubai Media Office (DMO) tweeted on Thursday.

“The move highlights Dubai’s and the UAE’s extensive efforts to protect endangered animal species and promote nature conservation. The designation of the underpass highlights the special status that houbara bustards have in Emirati culture and its environment,” the DMO added.

During a tour of he construction works of the project in 2017, Sheikh Mohammed had directed rerouting the cycling underpass at Seih Assalam Road to avoid disturbing the nesting settlement of houbara bustards in the area.

What is a houbara bustard?

Measuring, 22–26 inches in length and with wing-span stretching from 53–67 inches, the houbara bustard is a small to mid-sized bustard. It is brown above and white below, with a black stripe down the sides of its neck. In flight, the long wings show large areas of black and brown on the flight feathers.

Integral to Emirati heritage

The houbara bustard is an integral part of Emirati culture and heritage. The UAE’s Founding Father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was the first to notice in 1970 that the population of the houbara was declining rapidly and proposed a breeding programme to prevent the extinction of the houbara across territories of distribution from Morocco to China.

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In 1977, a houbara breeding unit was set up in Al Ain Zoo and in 1982, the first houbara chick was hatched from the breeding programme.

Under the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) based in Abu Dhabi, the population of houbara bustards has increased to several hundred thousands.

Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Roads and Transport Authority said: “The designation of the underpass as Houbara Tunnel underscores His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s commitment to the conservation of wildlife and nature, which reflects the country’s sustainable development policies that balance infrastructure expansion with environmental considerations.”

Extensive cycling track

Al Tayer added that the new underpass facilitates free movement of cyclists in both directions under Seih Assalam Road and links the cycling track parallel to Seih Assalam Road with the cycling track parallel to Al Qudra Road.

“The Houbara Tunnel constitutes part of the 135 km-long Al Qudra cycling track, one of the most important cycling tracks in Dubai. Serving Seih Assalam, Al Qudra, Global Village, and Al Barari communities, the new path provides opportunities to cycle in Dubai’s natural environment. The track is designed to enable people to cycle at various speeds,” noted Al Tayer.

The total length of cycling tracks constructed in Dubai is 425km as of 2020. RTA plans to build more cycling tracks that will increase the length of the network to 668km by 2025.