The Falcon has Landed
The government of Mongolia identified the Saker Falcon as the national bird in November, making Mongolia the 88th country in the world that has a national bird. Falcon is also one of the national symbols of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mongolia and Abu Dhabi are engaged in one of the largest conservation projects for the species in the world. In the framework of the 5 year term cooperation memorandum signed between the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and Ministry of Nature, Environment and Green Development of Mongolia, the Abu Dhabi is funding the Mongolian Artificial Nest Project in cooperation with Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia (WSCC) to increase the population of Saker Falcons in Mongolia. This project is the part of a worldwide ongoing conservation program to conserve Saker Falcons in their natural range. The aim of the research is to establish a programme whereby Saker Falcon conservation can be achieved through sustainable use. The establishment of such a system requires sound scientific data on Saker productivity combined with a rigid and transparent system of regulation for the harvesting.
The Mongolian Artificial Nest Project manager, specialist of Wildlife Science and Conservation Center G.Batbayar gave detailed information about the undergoing project.
-For how many years the WSCC is operating?
-WSCC is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to preserving Mongolia’s wildlife and their habitat through research, conservation, and public education. WSCC was registered officially in 2004 and is one of Mongolia’s premier wildlife conservation organisations. WSCC activities include research, education, and conservation of wildlife species and associated environmental problems.
-How many Saker Falcons recorded in Mongolia?
- According to the research carried out by the national scientists in 2010, there about 6,800 Saker Falcons recorded in Mongolia. But the researchers estimated that there are 2,000 to 5,000 breeding pair of Saker Falcon in Mongolia. Saker Falcon’s breeding season occurs from April to June. After the breeding season the young falcons migrate to western and central part of Chinese territory, while the mature falcons stay here looking after their environment. Some migrate and some falcons stay over winter.
The Saker Falcon is a very large falcon. This species breeds from Eastern Europe eastwards across Asia to western China. It is mainly migratory except in the southernmost parts of its range, wintering in Ethiopia, the Arabian peninsula, northern Pakistan and western China.
Despite population declines elsewhere in the breeding range, Mongolia remains one of the few countries still supporting significant wild population.
The Saker Falcon has been a popular bird of prey in Arabian falconry tradition for centuries because they are excellent hunters and well adapted to arid environments. Today there is a significant demand for Saker Falcons in the Middle East, which is largely met by international trade. Although there are several factors that threaten the wild Saker falcon population in range countries, the illegal harvest and the trapping for falconry is considered to be one of the most significant. Because of illegal trapping, breeding populations of Saker Falcons in parts of Central Asia have gone under severe declines and some are facing local extinction.
-How many falcons are exported to foreign countries a year?
The Mongolian trade in Saker Falcons has existed since 1993, with the majority of wild-caught birds being exported to Arab states for falconry.
The Mongolian government officially exports Saker Falcons each year based on an agreed quota. However, over the years the scientific basis for this quota was unclear and the trade has been subject to review and suspension by CITES Convention because the Mongolian government has not been able to demonstrate that its export quotas did not have a detrimental impact on the Saker Falcon population. At present the Mongolian Saker Falcon export quota is fixed at 300 birds until 2011.
The main objective of our research activities in Mongolia is to monitor the wild population and develop a science-based conservation model for sustainable use of wild Saker Falcons that meets CITES criteria. The underlying principle of conservation through sustainable use of wildlife resources is that there is no detrimental impact on the population being harvested. Furthermore, the concept also requires that the harvest benefits the local community so that there is a local incentive to conserve the species through sustainable use.
-One of the main parts of the project is an artificial nest. What is the benefit erecting artificial nests?
- The Mongolian steppe has vast areas of flat or undulating grasslands with abundant prey but very few nest sites for Saker Falcons. This habitat is occupied by Sakers but they do not breed. By erecting artificial nests we can provide nesting sites, enabling these non-breeders to breed and produce young i.e., we can artificially increase the breeding population in the steppe zone by providing nesting sites.
In 2009 and 2010 it were erected 5,000 artificial nests in 20 blocks, distributed across the central steppe of Mongolia following the consultation and meetings with soum and province officials. The monitoring result show that the 380 pairs of Saker falcons occupied artificial nests and fledged 1,298 chicks. We implanted 1,315 chicks with microchips in 348 broods during this monitoring process. We predict that by 2015 these 1500 artificial nests can be occupied by 500 breeding pairs and produce at 1500 chicks.
Lids are attached to make a closed box and three metal strips are added to create a ‘crown’. This crown enables Upland Buzzards to build their nests on the top of the barrels.
The programme does not only benefit the birds. Within the frames of the project totally six studentships have been funded for Mongolian students. The project also provides training for many undergraduate students helping to build capacity for nature conservation in Mongolia. It employs full-time Mongolian biologists and teams of support staff during nest monitoring.
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