ABU DHABI // Delegations from more than 30 countries gathered in the capital yesterday with a common aim - to save the Saker falcon.
A migratory species found in 70 countries, the Saker is important to falconers in the UAE and other Arabian Gulf states, but its numbers have been in dramatic decline over the past two decades.
Traditionally, Bedouin herders would trap the birds in autumn, hunt with them in winter and release them in spring, just in time for their migration to breeding grounds in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.
More than 50 experts will discuss the first draft of a global action plan by the Saker Falcon Task Force to save the species.
Established in 2011, the task force operates under the Convention on Migratory Species Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia.
The three-day meeting is "a culmination of the task force's work", said Nick Williams, head of the convention's coordinating unit.
The presence of countries such as Hungary, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia at the meeting is a positive sign, Mr Williams said.
"This is the first time we've brought together so many range states with a focus on the Saker," he said.
"The Saker Falcon Global Action Plan provides a unique opportunity to promote effective conservation of the species throughout its range."
With the number of breeding pairs almost halved in the past two decades, the Saker is now globally classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Habitat loss, electrocution by power lines, poisoning, shooting and trapping are among the causes of the decline, Mr Williams said.
The number of birds taken from nature has increased in recent decades, along with the rise in interest in falconry and more falconers travelling abroad looking for birds.
While Arabian Gulf countries have great demand for the birds, they also have an interest in preserving falconry for future generations, said Mohammed Al Bowardi, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi's managing director, who addressed delegates in the capital yesterday.
"Ultimately, what we aim to achieve is a healthy wild population of the Saker falcon," Mr Al Bowardi said.
"With the current fragile status of the Saker falcon population worldwide, we have come together today to take an active step towards fulfilling our shared responsibility of protecting it.
"I would like to stress that the Saker falcon's importance is not limited to its biodiversity or cultural values but also to the role it plays in falconry, a cultural sport with deep roots that is deeply respected and still practised by many today."
The UAE has been working with Mongolia, where 5,000 nests have been built on poles in wilderness areas that were once favoured by the birds, but which have had little recent breeding activity.
As a result of the UAE-funded programme, about 2,000 chicks were produced this year.
Mr Williams said Gulf nations could offer crucial support to less developed countries in the Saker falcon projects. Programmes to reintroduce the birds, controlling poisoning agents and habitat restoration are among the solutions discussed by experts in Abu Dhabi, he said.
After the meeting, an amended draft is to be produced next month, while the action plan is due to be submitted for approval at the next conference of parties to the convention next year.