Protection of natural populations
An effective houbara protection
The houbara bustard is legally protected throughout Morocco. However, the species’ wide range, the nature of the environments it inhabits and its popularity with an increasingly number of hunters cannot guarantee effective protection of the birds.
Aware of that situation, in 1995, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan has proposed to the Moroccan authorities a strategy of sustainable management of the North-African houbara bustard and founded the ECWP project. Today this pragmatic, visionary approach enables the implementation of and respect for existing protection measures while at the same time allowing sustainable traditional falconry.
In 1996 a first 1,000 km² zone (Missour region) was totally protected, creating an area where scientists could study the wild populations’ ecology and biology. Since then the Moroccan government has made the zone a permanent reserve for all the wildlife species living there.
In February 2002, based on the results of ecology programs, an additional, 14,500 km² network of protected areas towards falconry — over one-third of the ECWP’s intervention zone — was established. Today those areas are authentic sanctuaries where natural breeding populations of houbara bustards contribute significantly to the species recovery.
Setting up a surveillance network
A network of observers, including gamekeepers, monitors the entire zone managed by ECWP and ensures the integrity of the ECWP protected areas. They complement the Moroccan authorities’ general surveillance efforts to prevent poaching on houbara. In addition to its essential preventive role, the network, which is made up of men born in the surrounding area, is a precious aid in communicating the project’s actions in the field. The gamekeepers support the ECWP’s ecology programs by helping to inform local populations and raising their awareness every day.
Adjustment of falconry practices
Right from the start, falconers made a long-term commitment to pave the way for sustainable falconry, the only alternative for ensuring this age-old tradition’s survival.
A three-year total hunting ban enabled the ECWP to lay the groundwork of its conservation strategy (creation of a conservation breeding station, ecology programs). In 2002 falconry gradually resumed in an organized way, integrating respect for the protected areas, restricting the number of falconers to reduce the pressure of hunting on populations and setting up a timetable that bans hunting and catching birds during their reproduction period.
Whenever and wherever a sustainable development policy is implemented, everybody must become conscious, on their level, of their role in protecting the environment. The ECWP informs people about its programs with a set of socio-environmental actions intended to raise the local inhabitants’ awareness of their environment’s fragility. The priority targets are schoolchildren and falconers. Information campaigns are also directed at nomad populations urging them to cooperate with the various actions aiming to conserve and preserve natural houbara bustard populations and their habitats.
The ECWP makes all the data from monitoring Eastern Morocco’s ecosystems available to local officials in order to enhance scientific knowledge and offer them useful information for their development policy.
Within the past 10 years, the ECWP has produced many scientific articles and participated in several international assemblies to diffuse its results worldwide. These communications served to promote the actions taken in Morocco by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi on behalf of the North Africa’s houbara bustard.