By James Langton
Lal Souhanra National Park, PAKISTAN // With a few tentative first steps and then a wild burst of flight and feathers, the first of 600 houbara bustards, born and raised in Abu Dhabi, were introduced to the wild in Pakistan on Wednesday.
The Asian houbara will form the nucleus of a joint conservation programme by the UAE and Pakistan through the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IHFC) in both countries.
They were flown by the UAE Air Force from Abu Dhabi Airport to Bahawalpur in Punjab and then driven to the Lal Souhanra National Park.
Although the birds were hatched at the National Avian Research Centre in Sweihan, they are genetically identical to existing houbara populations in Pakistan.
To protect them from natural predators and poachers the birds have been introduced into a 15 kilometre-long fenced area of desert and scrub, ideal conditions for houbara.
While Asian houbara may migrate from central Asia as far as the Arabian Peninsula, those native to Pakistan tend to stay in one area, increasing their chances of survival, researchers hope.
All of the houbara released on Wednesday have been ringed, with 30 also fitted with GPS trackers to better study their movement and breeding patterns.
It is hoped that they could start breeding naturally by next year.
The three-hour 40-minutes journey in a C130 transport aircraft was also the first time any of the birds had left the ground.
Because they are initially raised in cages, the moment of release was the first chance for the houbara to use their wings for real flight – which they did with enthusiasm.
“They are very clever birds and adapt quickly,” said Mohammed Saleh Al Baidani, the director general of the IFHC. “They have the instinct for survival.”
Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, first started a breeding centre for houbara at Al Ain Zoo in 1982, with the IFHC created on the orders of the President, Sheikh Khalifa.