DUBAI // Dozens of rare and endangered birds have been released in an ambitious conservation project.
Sixteen greater flamingos and 50 Socotra cormorants were released at Creek Park yesterday morning by wildlife experts from the municipality.
The birds were bred in captivity at Dubai Zoo and experts hope they will mix with the wild population and eventually make their way to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary.
"This project has been a huge success for Dubai Zoo," said Dr Reza Khan, wildlife specialist for zoo management at Dubai Municipality.
"Dubai is the first zoo anywhere in the world to successfully keep and breed Socotra cormorants, and it is also the first 4.5-acre-sized zoo to breed flamingos."
The birds will be kept under observation for the next seven days to make sure they are settling in to their new surroundings.
"We have staff who will be putting fish out for them in the evenings but we are hopeful they will merge with the existing wild bird populations," Dr Khan said.
Up to 3,500 flamingos live at the wildlife reserve at Ras Al Khor sanctuary in winter.
About half migrate to Iran and Armenia in summer, with about 1,500 staying all year.
"We decided to conduct the breeding programme and release some of the animals back into the wild because they are endangered," said Ahmed Abdul Karim, director of public parks and horticulture at Dubai Municipality.
"The Socotra cormorants are native to the UAE and we felt it was important to protect them."
Breeding of the cormorants began in the early 1990s and there are now another 72 in captivity.
Work on breeding the greater flamingo began in 2006 in Dubai Zoo's small aviary, which is the first enclosure visitors see when they enter the zoo. There are 31 of the birds there.
Dr Mohammed Wazed, the zoo's vet, said the breeding programme was a tricky operation.
"One of the issue we faced was of overcrowding," Dr Wazed said.
"We had to make sure that they are given fresh food, and where they live is hygienic and so doesn't attract any diseases."
All the birds that have been released have also been tagged. This will help experts know if they eventually join flocks of wild birds.
"We will see how successful this release is and then we will look at breeding other species," said Saleh Ahmed Mohammed, head of the zoo section at the municipality.
"One of the species we are looking at is the African spoonbill, but we are also looking at a few others."
In total, Dubai Zoo has 1,171 animals split into 111 different species.