By Vesela Todorova
As he navigates his 4x4 vehicle expertly through the sea of white sand dunes in a protected area to which few get access, Hamad Al Reisi's days as a post-office clerk are far behind him.
"It was not a bad job, but it was not my thing," says the 25-year-old Emirati.
That was his life until five years ago, when he heard about the work of the National Avian Research Centre in his hometown of Sweihan. The facility is one of several in the UAE and abroad supported by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation.
The organisation, based in Abu Dhabi, works to preserve the endangered houbara bustard, a species that has been pushed to the brink of survival in many countries by hunting, poaching and habitat destruction.
The centre breeds the rare birds in captivity and, since 2004, has taken part in a programme to release birds back into the wild. Mr Al Reisi's job for the past four years has been to monitor how the birds are surviving.
Surrounded by a tall concrete wall topped with barbed wire, the site is kept secret to protect the animals living there. Once allowed in by security, Mr Al Reisi drives through a small, flat valley. Patches of it have been turned into forest with row upon row of local trees, such as damas and acacia, irrigated by groundwater.
"In the summer, the houbara live under the trees, because there is irrigation and shade," he says. More....