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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC)?

The International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) is a government funded body established to coordinate the work of the Government of Abu Dhabi to preserve and restore wild populations of the vulnerable Houbara bustard species.

When was it established?

The IFHC was established in 2006 following a Decree by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Chairman of the board. The work of the Abu Dhabi Government to save the Houbara started in 1977 when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan initiated a Houbara breeding programme at Al Ain Zoo in Abu Dhabi to combat declining numbers.

What is a Houbara bustard?
The Houbara is a mainly ground dwelling, long-bodied bird with long legs and a slender neck. Its body is speckled, sandy brown with a white underbelly. Both males and females have long, black feathers on the side of the neck, with white feathers on the side and lower neck. There are different subspecies (Asian, and North African as well as Canary Islands bustard) and each have subtle variations in plumage which distinguish each from the other.
 
Why is the protection of the Houbara so important?
Before the Houbara programme was founded, the species was in historical decline and is currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red list of threatened species. The main reasons for its historical decline were poaching and unregulated hunting. In addition, its natural habitat has been lost and degraded as a result of urbanization and agricultural development.
The Houbara is an important part of Arabian culture and heritage and is the prized prey of the falconer. The Houbara and falconry are intrinsically linked and their survival is dependent on each other. As a result of the conservation efforts led by the IFHC, there are signs that this historical decline has been halted.
What is the scope of the IFHC’s work?

IFHC oversees a global network of conservation initiatives aimed at restoring Houbara bustard numbers worldwide. It does this through conducting ecological research into the habitat and behaviour of Houbara, undertaking captive-breeding and release programmes, and ensuring that the ancient practice of falconry is preserved as part of Arabian heritage

In which countries does IFHC manage breeding centres?
IFHC currently manages 4 breeding centres:
  • The National Avian Research Centre (NARC) located in Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
  • The Emirates Centre for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP) located in Morocco.
  • The Sheikh Khalifa Houbara Breeding Center (SKHBC) located in Kazakhstan.
  • The Sheikh Khalifa Houbara Breeding Centre located at Seih Al Salam, Abu Dhabi.
Where is the Houbara found in the wild?

Across the subspecies the Houbara ranges from the Atlantic coast of North Africa to Mongolia and China in the east. The North African Houbara ranges from Morocco in the West to Egypt in the East. The Asian Houbara has a wide distribution range from the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan in the South, Egypt in the West, all the way through Central Asia up to Mongolia. The Canary Island bustard is limited to four of the Canary Islands.

What type of habitat does the Houbara inhabit?

The Houbara bustard inhabits large open landscapes such as the steppes of Central Asia to remote, semi-arid regions of sand and stone desert.

How many eggs does a Houbara lay?
The female Houbara normally has two clutches a year, although in some cases it is three. A single clutch can contain between 2-4 eggs. The number of eggs also depends on the habitat as well as the weather conditions. The female Houbara makes a shallow hollow or scrape in the sandy ground to lay her eggs. When sitting on her eggs her camouflage makes her almost invisible to her surroundings.
             
What is captive-breeding?

Captive-breeding enables IFHC scientists to study and preserve the populations’ genetic diversity with respect to geographical variations which ensure genetic integrity and viability in the birds, both as captive breeding stock and candidates for release to the wild.

How is breeding Houbara carried out in captivity?

It is achieved through artificial insemination and incubation in indoor facilities with a strictly controlled environment.

What does the Houbara eat when bred in captivity?

The Houbara’s diet consists of crickets, meal worms, small mice, alfalfa and other supplementary feed.

How many Houbara did IFHC breed and release so far?
Since 1996, centres managed by IFHC have bred:
74,475 Asian Houbara and 131,763 North African Houbara
 
And released around:
39,725 Asian Houbara and 98,106 North African Houbara
Why are not all the captive-bred Houbara released into the wild?

Some Houbara remain at the breeding centres so that IFHC can maintain a viable breeding stock.

When and where are Houbara released back into the wild?
Part of the annual Houbara production is kept for the breeding programme while the other part is released into the wild. The target for releasing captive-bred Houbara into the wild is aligned to the number of birds produced annually.
 
The release sites are specifically chosen to ensure the Houbara has the best chance for survival. The main considerations for release include: habitat types, vegetation quality, food availability and predation risks. Survival and breeding success of released Houbara are measured as indicators of the programme efficiency.
Does releasing captive-bred Houbara damage the genetic stability of the wild population?
Extensive research indicates that there is no genetic damage to the wild populations. IFHC scientists go to great lengths to ensure the genetic stability of wild populations of Houbara.
 
What is the average life span of Houbara in captivity?

The highest recorded life span is 20 years in captivity; the average is just below this.

What sort of ecology, conservation and research programmes does the IFHC conduct?

The IFHC has invested its resources in understanding the conditions of a healthy environment in which the Houbara bustard can thrive, and all characteristics of the behaviour. Studies of existing flora and fauna have resulted in a broader understanding of the nutritional requirements of the Houbara bustard. Satellite tracking studies have revealed many aspects of the Houbara secret life including breeding behaviours, survival, migration routes and favoured staging and wintering areas. IFHC research teams develop conservation efforts in the field involving a variety of approaches and integrating scientific advances.

Why is falconry so important to Arabian culture and the Houbara?

Falconry has been an essential element of Arabian culture for many centuries. Falcons were used to hunt for vital food for Arabs in the harsh desert environment. As long as the Houbara is at risk the future of traditional falconry is also at risk. The survival of this vital element of Arabian culture, listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is dependent on the adjustment of hunting practices. The IFHC works together with falconry groups and organisations to protect wild Houbara populations from poaching and unregulated hunting. Regulations have been put in place in restricted areas where registered falconers and groups can hunt outside of the breeding season.

Are there specific seasons for the launch of Houbara? At what stage are you launching?
Why does the fund help to multiply and release the sabra, but it allows the falcon to continue?
Does the Fund support the practice of falconry?

 

What is the International Fund for the Conservation of Houbara to educate the community, especially falconry?

 

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