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Sunday, May 9, 1999 Published at 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK


Bustard breeding breakthrough

Houbara bustards once flourish in UAE's deserts

By Frank Gardner in Dubai

There is new hope for a threatened species of bird, the Houbara bustard, following a breakthrough in artificial breeding by wildlife experts in the United Arab Emirates.

Through the use of incubators, frozen sperm and an artificial breeding house, scientists at the National Avian Research Centre in Abu Dhabi believe they have secured the future of one of the Middle East's most threatened birds.

The Houbara bustard is about the size of a chicken and once flourished on the Arabian peninsula. But it has recently been hunted close to extinction.

Life from frozen sperm

The scientists in Abu Dhabi started an artificial breeding programme using semen from the male birds, frozen in liquid nitrogen.

After fertilising eggs laid during the breeding season with frozen sperm, they managed to hatch more than 50 chicks.

This has given the scientists hope that the captive birds can be released into the wild in sufficient numbers to allow local falconers to indulge in their sport.

Conservationists wary

The Houbara bustard is the favoured prey of falcons in the Gulf states, where hunting with falcons is revered as the traditional sport of princes and sheikhs.

But conservationists remain wary. Local villagers and tribesmen in the Gulf states have a record of hunting rare species' to the threshold of extinction.

Spectacular animals, like the Arabian leopard, for example, are now hemmed in to a handful of remote enclaves.

Those who wish to see the Houbara bustard flourish once more in the United Arab Emirates may be in no hurry to watch captive birds fall prey to the hunters' falcon.

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Satellite Tracking Houbara bustards

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