Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife - Desert Park Sharjah UAE

19-23 February 2006

Michael C Jennings and Tanya A Sadler


The group was established to examine, species by species, those raptors and owls which were not considered by the large raptors working group in 2005, notably birds of prey in the genera Elanus, Milvus, Melierax, Micronisus, Accipiter, Buteo (but not B. socotranus endemic to Socotra), Pandion and Falco (but not hunting falcons), and owls (but not O. socotranus endemic to Socotra). It is understood that the hunting falcons and Socotra endemics will be included in a future workshops. However the population and conservation situation aspects of those species considered included where appropriate details of the Socotra population. Jordan was not directly considered although some input of data from Jordanian representatives on other working groups was gratefully received.

The group benefited from a wide range of expertise including academics, reserve managers, government conservation department representatives, field workers, wildlife park specialists, veterinary specialists and those closely connected with official bodies such as CITES monitoring. There were representatives present from each state and a number of foreign delegates attended to share their knowledge and expertise. Written submissions were received from David Stanton in Yemen, Jacky Judas and Patrick Pailat who were unable to attend in person.

Unfortunately the group did not have the advantage of finalised recommendations and actions from the large raptors group workshop held in 2005 , but a few of the delegates to that workshop were present and could pass on there experiences and knowledge. The BCEAW Sharjah had also prepared comprehensive resource packs on each species including extracts from the literature, distribution maps etc. As an aid to discussion the facilitator prepared prior to the workshop a comprehensive summary of the status, distribution and populations of all raptors (including those not due for discussion and those discussed at last year’s workshop) and owls. This document formed a focal point for initial discussion for each species as the group reviewed distribution and population issues collectively, before considering the individual Taxon Data Sheets (TDS). Note that the estimated populations table (Appendix B) was updated during the workshop and the revised estimated populations table appears below.

Issues Identified in the Species Reviews by the Group

The group worked through the species one by one. To encourage discussion a start was made with a species well known to everyone, the Osprey Pandion halieatus. Rather disconcertingly this took half of Day 1. This was probably because there is relatively a lot known about this species in Arabia and many had a view to express. After that the group was able to review of the majority of species targeted including 9 birds of prey and 3 owls. The group took a decision not to discuss the Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus and Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni on the original worksheet because these species are not confirmed to breed in Arabia, although the latter does have a breeding population of about 100 pairs in Jordan. The group did not have sufficient time to review all species scheduled for discussion because it considered it important to have proper time to discuss general issues and form ideas for some realistic recommendations. The species not considered because of lack of time were the African and Striated Scops Owls (Otus africanus and O. brucei), Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus and Little Owl Athene noctua

The species that were reviewed (in the order considered) were as follows:

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
Shikra Accipiter badius
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Sooty Falcon Falco concolor
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Desert Eagle Owl Bubo desertorum/ascalaphus
Hume’s Owl Strix butleri

The groups worked through the TDS document for each species, to identify and categorise the conservation situation appropriate for each in Arabia and review this against its global status as shown in the various documents available to the group. Working through the TDSs it became clear that certain themes and issues occurred over and over again for a number of species, (in TDS order)

a. There was only poor quality information available on population trends both nationally and regionally, and this inhibited detailed and valuable discussion.
b. Information on Arabian habitats, habitat change, and habitat losses due to development and agriculture was limited.
c. Although much anecdotal information was presented the degree to which each species is in local or international trade in the Arabian region is very poorly known.
d. There is very few detailed studies of the target species in Arabia.
e. The general lack of detailed research into populations, habitats and life histories in Arabia of the species reviewed hampered discussion.
f. Captive breeding was not identified as a relevant issue for Arabian species at present.
g. There was no clear information available of exactly which species, species groups etc have any degree of protection in the region. This restricted the group’s ability to make recommendations towards legislation.

Conservation Status

The group considered the current global conservation status as published by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2004. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. and recommended which regional status is appropriate for Arabian taxa. Table 1 presents the results along with the suggested total Arabian populations for each – expressed as breeding pairs. (NB Many sources quote populations in terms of individuals. In very broad terms some workers use the yardstick that for every breeding pair the equivalent number of individuals is three.)

Table 1: Global IUCN conservation status of species reviewed, with estimate current Arabian breeding population (pairs)

Species Global IUCN Conservation Status Conservation Status in Arabia Arabian Population (Breeding Pairs)
Osprey Least concern Vulnerable C1 800
Black-shouldered Kite Least concern Vulnerable C1 15
Black Kite Least concern Least concern 15 000
Dark-chanting Goshawk Least concern Near threatened 1 000
Gabar Goshawk Least concern Vulnerable D1 200
Shikra Least concern Vulnerable D2 15
Long-legged Buzzard Least concern Near threatened 800
Common Kestrel Least concern Least concern 4 000
Sooty Falcon Least concern Endangered C2a1 500
Barn owl Least concern Vulnerable C1 1 000
Desert Eagle Owl Least concern Near threatened 1 500
Hume’s Tawny Owl Least concern Least concern 1 700


Perhaps the most important result of the discussion was the realisation that there appears to be a fundamental error in the published information on the known world population of the Sooty Falcon. This species is credited with a world population according to IUCN (BirdLife International 2004. Falco concolor. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 ICUN Red List of Threatened Species; of 100,000 individuals and similarly in, el Hoyo (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World, as 40,000 pairs. However careful research of all Arabian census data, which is surprisingly complete for this species, has revealed that the total Arabian population is probably just less than 500 breeding pairs. Given that the Arabian population is generally regarded as the largest within its range (perhaps half of the world population) the generally quoted global population may actually be exaggerated by a factor of forty! This issue requires urgent investigation. It is thought that the published total may have been extrapolations of partial counts in the species winter range.

Apart from the situation with Sooty Falcon the group considered that the two most pressing issues concerning raptor and owl conservation in the Arabia region were as follows.
1) There is a need for much greater public awareness of threats and issues facing these species and how these might be overcome, and
2) There is great need for detailed studies of most of these species, including their habitats, populations and life histories, to address their conservation status and identify population trends.

Recommendation and actions

Recommendations were collected against the following two general topics and are scheduled with some miscellaneous issues below. The group thought that it would only be appropriate to list recommendations that it could realistically achieve through the action of the group’s members. The individuals who will be coordinating specific action within the group and taking forward the issues to resolution are shown. Those taking forward actions should copy all drafts and details of progress to the other members of the group using the standard email distribution list or the workgroup to be set up. The facilitator would coordinate all actions and progress for a period of six months after the workshop.

Public Awareness

a. Owls in Arabian Folklore: The particular situation within Arabia where owls are universally regarded in folklore as birds of bad omen, which often leads to persecution, was identified as a major stumbling block to their conservation. In an attempt to counter this negative understanding the group felt that a poster or similar document could be prepared which could then be circulated widely within schools to try and instil in children the idea that owls are not to be feared and are in fact a very beneficial part of the human environment because they eat rodent and insect pests. The group undertook to start action to prepare such a poster which it was hoped could be funded for printing by the Birdlife (Middle East), perhaps with local donations from both the official and private sectors. (Action: Draft poster design, Declan O’Donovan) (All members who have knowledge of the folklore aspects of owls in Arabia are requested to provide Declan with the details as this will be useful in designing the poster).

b. Husbandry broadsheet for injured birds and chicks- and rescue centres: Several group members identified that at present it is a recurring problem that young, sick or particularly injured birds are found by the public who do not know what to do with them. In view of the rarity/vulnerability of most species it was recommended that a fact-sheet type document should be prepared (which could be adapted for each state) which would show what the public could do with birds in terms of first aid, basic care, feeding and which local organisations, such as rescue centres, even sympathetic vets, were available to help restore the bird to good health or, if unavoidable, effect euthanasia. The sheets could be made available at a variety of establishments such as zoos, wildlife centres, vets, and occasionally published in local papers, especially if dressed up as a wildlife article. The group also considered that there was a need for more wildlife rescue centres and would look into ways of how this might be encouraged. (Action: Draft broadsheet and list of rescue centres, Greg Simkins & Declan O’Donovan) (All members to pass further ideas and details of local centres to Greg and Declan).

c. CITES Poster: Kuwait representatives mentioned that they had started to prepare an advice document on CITES species in trade. This document which might take the form of a poster with photographs would be issued for display in markets, at airports and border areas etc. It was thought that such a poster could be easily adapted for use elsewhere in the region. (Action: When poster prepared for Kuwait to be circulated to other members, Shareefa Al Salem)


d. Sooty Falcon population:
The discrepancy identified between the accepted view of world population and the likely world population suggested from research in Arabia needs to be publicised and brought to the attention of appropriate conservation bodies. The group recommends that urgent efforts are made to identify how the world population of 100,000 birds has been calculated and to alert the IUCN of the discrepancy. This species may actually be endangered rather than ‘least concern’ as currently classified. (Action: Determine origin of published world population of 100,000 birds and report views of group to IUCN/BirdLife as necessary, Michael Jennings)

e. Sooty Falcon winter range: With only limited investment a great deal could be learnt on the non-breeding range of the Sooty Falcon by fitting some with satellite tracking devices. A few fitted at colonies in Bahrain, Oman, northern Red Sea and Yemen would provide extremely valuable information. This study could be extended to other species and include traditional ringing techniques as appropriate. (Action: Not allocated. It is suggested that Howard King could look into how this could be done for the Bahrain colony, perhaps with the help of Mohammed Shobrak who has knowledge of the Saudi Arabian Red Sea colonies and of satellite tracking technology. )

f. Disease, health and parasite etc studies: It was thought that a lot of information on disease among birds of prey and general aspects of health was being lost though lack of awareness by fieldworkers, ringers and others handling birds or inspecting nests etc. It was recommended that a paper could be prepared on things to look out for, basic data and specimens that could be collected and which organisations would be interested in specimens, samples etc. (Action: Draft information document, Tom Bailey).

g. Impact of agriculture and development: Despite the huge increase in the last two decades in the area of land under agriculture and developed for commercial, industrial and domestic use, there has been very little work done on how these issues are impacting populations and ranges of raptors and owls. It was recommended that the main issues relative to these aspects should be identified so that future study programme could be coordinated. (Action: Not yet allocated)

h. Formal research subjects: It was identified that there are a number of important issues such as the monitoring of pesticides/insecticide usage and research in to pollution aspects, detailed studies of species etc, that require to be looked at in depth, some perhaps are appropriate to formal academic study. Some specific subjects arising out of the groups review are shown at Appendix 3. (Action: Not yet allocated)

i. Information Exchange: It is recommended that a central point should be established where data and other resources can be available as an aid to further research of taxa, habitats and conservation studies. This resource could include a variety of media such as databases, bibliographies, reference library, useful websites and online data sources. (Action: Not yet allocated, however this facility could perhaps be coordinated at BCEAW? )

j. Inter-disciplinary actions: Scope for more inter-disciplinary actions were judged to be high and should be encouraged as much as possible. For example the ornithological community can provide the small mammals group with owl and raptor pellets for analysis of mammalian contents. This specific area of cooperation will be published. (Action: Short notes to be drafted for inclusion in appropriate journals and newsletters, Michael Jennings) Ideas would be welcomed from other members on which publications could carry such notes.

k. Hybrids/Exotics species: This is a subject which is a particularly concern in view of the possibility that hybrids, such as those falcons deliberately cross-bred in falcon centres are released, or escape, to the environment and could then cross breed in turn with indigenous species. Research is needed to determine whether this concern is justified. (Action: Not yet allocated)


l. Legislation and Politics: The group considered that it was generally very difficult or impracticable to get movement with the political and legislative process by direct means. However there was a case for every individual not to miss the opportunity to lobby those in government and those taking the major decisions, to effect small and large changes that may concern birds of prey and owls. It was also agreed that to better inform the group and future similar workshops, a comprehensive catalogue of conservation and environment protection legislation (e.g. Year, name of legislation, species/areas protected etc) for each state in Arabia should be prepared and updated as necessary. (This would be an important part of the resource at ‘Recommendation i’ above) Initial work would start on this immediately. (Action: Draft list of legislation to be prepared, Salah Behbehani ) Would all members please forward information on national legislation within their own state to Salah).

m. Threats: Further work is needed to determine what studies are appropriate to clarify the true impact of hunting, persecution, trade, and recreation on breeding species. There is also a need to ensure the impact of these issues is brought to the attention of the perpetrators and those involved so that they know the effect of their actions. Again this could perhaps be done through publicity activities such as newspaper articles, TV etc. (Action: Not yet allocated)
The way forward in respect of the recommendations

To action the groups recommendations it is proposed to set up a workgroup site (Action: Howard King). All members can then keep in touch and share all their thoughts, ideas and data. A standard email distribution list will also be prepared and used for to circulation the formal actions, drafts etc, arising out of the recommendations (Action: Tanya Sadler).


The following persons took part in the debates of one or more species or the general discussion of recommendations.

: Michael Jennings (UK based. Coordinator: Atlas of the Birds of Arabia project, Editor: The Phoenix)

SECETARY: Ms. Tanya Sadler (Veterinary Nurse, BCEAW, Sharjah)

Howard King (Land surveyor, field ornithologist, specialist on the birds breeding on the Hawar Islands)
Essa Faraj Sa’ad (Head Bird Section, Department of Protected Areas)
Dr. Mohammed Shobrak (Director National Wildlife Research Centre, Taif )
Salah Behbehani (Assistant Curator-Desert Section, Kuwait CITES)
Dr. Shareefa al-Salem (CITES National Committee, Environment Public Authority)
Dr. Fouzia Abdulaziz Alsadrawi (Living Resource Division, EPA)
Ahmed bin Said al Shakili (MRMEWR – Ministry of Environment)
Dr. Barbara Arca Ruibal (Veterinarian, Al Wasl Veterinary Clinic)
Dr. Tom Bailey (Veterinarian, Dubai Falcon Hospital)
Dr. Ahmed Elsayed (CITES Liaison Officer, Ministry of Environment & Water)
Eng. Asma Ahmed (CITES Animal Wealth dept, Ministry of Environment & Water)
Dorian Hoy (Wildlife Manager, Al Warsan Farm)
Dr Laco Molnar (Avian & Wildlife Medicine, Al Warsan Falcon Hospital)
Declan O’Donovan (Director, Wildlife Services, Wadi al Safa Wildlife Centre)
Greg Simkins (Conservation Manager, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve)
Omer Ahmed Baeshen (Nature Resource Management, Environment Protection Authority)
Participants submitting written material:
Jacky Judas (Wildlife biologist, National Avian Research Centre, EAD)
Patrick Paillat (Field researcher)
No present email address
David Stanton (Chairman of the Yemen Ornithological Society, Sana’a)


Appendix 1.

Appendix 2.
available as image files only - each six pages and accessible by following links at side of main working page (click here to start)

Appendix 3

1. Despite the huge increase in the last two decades in the area of land under agriculture and developed for commercial, industrial and domestic use there has been no study of how this changes in land use is impacting the habitats, populations and breeding of birds of prey and owls.
2. There is an urgent requirement to look in depth at the overall effect of the use of pesticides/insecticides in the Arabian environment, to make research into other pollution aspects and to set up measures and procedures to monitor changes in these aspects in future.
3. Studies are appropriate to clarify the true impact of al aspects of hunting, persecution, trade and recreation on breeding species of raptors and owls in Arabia.
4. Detailed species studies are much needed for a number of taxa breeding in Arabia, where very little data is available in respect of their habitat utilisation, life history and breeding, and populations. Lack of knowledge is particularly noticeable for the Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra, Long-legged Buzzard and all owl species.

Appendix A
These maps are prepared from the records held on the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia database. All records for all species are shown unless otherwise indicated in the species accounts.

Appendix B