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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Sheikh Mohammed acts to prevent deaths of thousands of endangered falcons by electrocution

New Dh70 million Mohammed bin Zayed research fund seeks solutions to needless deaths caused by electricity power lines

<p>A dead Saker falcon hangs from a power line in Mongolia, where it is estimated around 4,000 of the endangered birds die by electrocution every year. Courtesy&nbsp;Environment Agency Abu Dhabi</p>
A dead Saker falcon hangs from a power line in Mongolia, where it is estimated around 4,000 of the endangered birds die by electrocution every year. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

A multi-million dollar initiative to prevent endangered falcons from being killed by electrical power lines has been set up by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Conservationists estimate that at least 4,000 Saker falcons are electrocuted every year after landing on poorly designed pylons.

The Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Foundation will have an endowment of $20 million (Dh73 million) and initial seed capital of $1 million.

The announcement was made on the final day of an international conference in Abu Dhabi which aims to better protect migratory birds.

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The fund was revealed by Mohammed Al Bowardi, the Managing Director of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, who described it as a “critical mission.”

He said: “Electrocution of raptors is a conservation priority that requires an international response. With the growth of power distribution lines, the problem will only get worse.

“This is more than just an issue of conservation of birds, it requires governments, regulators and private industry to have a coordinated response as birds are vital in the species chain and an indicator of the health of our planet.”

The Environment Agency has already conducted a study with Mongolia’s Eastern Energy System power company, which found that 55 Saker falcons were being electrocuted for every 10 kilometres of power-line per year on a test section.

The International Association for Falconry & Conservation of Birds of Prey has called the pylons “24/7 killing machines”.

Preventive measures that would significantly cut the death toll would cost less than Dh80 for each pylon, the researchers concluded.

To launch the new foundation, an international conference will be held in Abu Dhabi early next year, inviting scientists, power companies, conservationists and government representatives, with the aim of creating an action plan.

Most of the falcons killed were less than a year old. They died when landing on the power lines while looking for a perch to rest or an observation spot to look for prey. Around six in ten were females, impacting fertility rates in the species.

Other species suffering significant death rates include buzzards, eagles and goshawks. A study funded by the Environment Agency in 2014 collected 300 dead Saker falcons over a year from one 56 kilometre stretch of power lines in Mongolia.

The birds are electrocuted when they grasp both the live wire and the metal crossbar of power poles. Installing better insulators would help to prevent the deaths. It is estimated around one million poles may need to be retrofitted but Mongolian authorities say they do not have the funds to do so.

At the same time, the Saker has considerable value for the country’s economy through trade with international falconry, especially in the Arab world. The value of the birds killed every year has been estimated at Dh360 million.