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British Ambassador to Uzbekistan visits the Houbara project

The Houbara research project is led by British scientists in Uzbekistan’s Kizilkum desert.

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Birds Project

Birds Project

On 6 to 7 April 2013, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan visited the Emirates Birds Breeding Centre for Conservation (EBBCC), outside Bukhara in the Kizilkum desert. The ambassador spent the afternoon of 6 April looking around the breeding centre, and meeting scientists working on the project, including a British aviculturalist. Early in the morning on 7 April, the Ambassador travelled into the heart of the desert to witness houbaras in the wild and many other plant and animal species.

The Emirates Birds Breeding Centre for Conservation is seeking to develop a model for the sustainable management of the Asian houbara. The houbara is a large ground nesting bird which lives in the deserts throughout Central Asia. It is currently threatened by unregulated hunting. EBBCC is working to support the wild population of houbara through a programme of limited captive breeding and release. Recognising the importance of understanding the ecology of the desert as part of ensuring hunting is regulated, and that the houbara population is healthy and viable, EBBCC has established a research project. This project is in its second year of a minimum five years and is led by a British scientist, Dr Paul Dolman, from the world-renowned University of East Anglia, in eastern England. The University of East Anglia is known for its expertise in evidence-based conservation. Dr Dolman is a leading conservation ecologist with experience from all over the world, including in South East Asia, Africa and Central America. Working with a multi-national team, Dr Dolman’s conservation research project in the Kizilkum supports the sustainable management of the houbara and studies the Kizilkum’s habitat and ecology, and the grazing patterns of the sheep. The conservationists working for Dr Dolman are looking into a range of areas, including the current number of wild houbara in the desert, their level of productivity, the impact of releasing captive-bred birds, and what happens to these birds after they are released.

Dr Paul Dolman said:

Since my team and I arrived in Uzbekistan in early March, we have seen the Kizilkum transform from bleak and wintry to green and beautiful. The sheep have lambed and tortoises have come out of hibernation. There are many different kinds of lizards, including the toad-headed agama and the desert monitor lizard which is up to 1 ½ metres long. Birds of prey are migrating through the desert, and we expect most to go north to Kazakhstan before the houbara chicks begin to hatch. The desert ecology varies from year to year, depending on rainfall. The conditions this year are good for the houbara, but it is vital that we continue studying the desert ecology here for a long time, because of the annual variations. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with the Uzbek agency ‘Gosbiokontrol’, and with the state environment ministry in Uzbekistan and are very grateful to them and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their support and cooperation. We are working closely with the British Council in Tashkent and hope to develop relationships with universities and academics working on rangeland management in Uzbekistan and who have an interest in desert ecology. We are very excited about the progress the project is making and look forward to continuing our important work studying the incredible biodiversity of this unique and special place.

Published 12 April 2013