Mohamed bin Zayed donates $1m for bird project

A major initiative supported by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was announced today to tackle the threat to birds posed by power lines.

The ‘Summit for the Flyways’ conservation conference, currently being held in Abu Dhabi, has highlighted the electrocution of birds by power lines as a key threat to endangered species.

The Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Initiative was unveiled during a speech to the conference by Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs and Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD. It is being launched in cooperation with the international Convention of the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, CMS.

One million US dollars is to be allocated from a fund established by H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for the conservation of birds of prey to serve as a nucleus for the initiative, Al Bowardi announced.

A conference is being planned next year to which concerned organisations, legislators, scientists, researchers and institutions operating in the field of electric power generation, donors to energy-saving projects and other parties will be invited.

Speaking during a discussion of a global action plan for conservation of the Saker falcon, Al Bowardi noted that despite its distribution in eighty-four countries in Eastern Europe, Central and Eastern Asia, North America and the Middle East, the species faces a real challenge to its survival, its population having dropped by around fifty percent during the past twenty years.

The most serious factors contributing to its decline, Al Bowardi said, are electrocution on migration routes and in breeding grounds, use of pesticides and poisons in agriculture, which kill the rodents on which the Saker feeds, and the destruction of nests in Central Asia.

"The UAE has led, and continues to lead, the efforts to preserve the Saker Falcon by supporting protection activities across the global breeding areas of the species in Europe, Central Asia, Mongolia and China," Al Bowardi said.

A first pilot programme in south-east Europe and the Balkans, with regional partners, had led to return of breeding sakers, he noted.

With the support of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, he added, the falcon release programme established in 1995 by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has been continued, with over 700 saker falcons having been released in their natural habitat.

Abu Dhabi has also provided major support for conservation efforts in Mongolia, he said. In 2010, 5,000 artificial nests were set up, and in the subsequent five years over 7,500 chicks flew from those nests.

Over the last five years, he said, birds using the nests have included 2,512 pairs of Saker falcons and 6,351 pairs of other raptors, like Upland buzzard and common kestrel, as well as ravens.

Calling power lines "the most serious threat to birds of prey today," Al Bowardi cited studies showing that they kill over 10,000 birds of prey annually, including 4,000 saker falcons.

Experiments have been undertaken to test modifications to power lines that might lower the rate of electrocution, he said. A Memorandum of Understanding on conservation of birds of prey has also been signed with the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners, with a co-ordination office in Abu Dhabi.

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