Conservation translocations are increasingly used to restore declining species, including species from desert and arid ecosystems. However, such ecosystems are more than ever at risk of irremediable degradation and desertification, potentially impeding translocation success. The North African houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) has been declining primarily due to unregulated hunting and poaching. Since 1998, more than 157,000 houbara have been successfully bred in captivity and released across the species range to reinforce wild populations and supplement regulated hunting grounds. Long term individual and population monitoring in a managed area in Morocco revealed the ability of released houbara to survive and breed successfully leading to positive and significant impact of translocations on the population size. However, Integrated Population Models predict that without reinforcement and even under full protection (no hunting) the population is not viable in the long term, mainly due to individual and temporal variation in survival playing a key role in driving the dynamics of the population. Indeed, despite protection measures, mean annual survival remains too low, pointing at potential limitations in the availability of high quality habitats and intrinsic population regulation mechanisms (density dependence). Recent studies on the relationship between abundances and habitat suitability (SDM) confirmed these assumptions and suggest that best habitats are at carrying capacity. However, in a region already under significant changes, land use and climate change scenarios forecast a significant niche restriction for the species. All together these results advocate the need to re-evaluate management decisions in line with the evolution of habitat quality.
Dr. Yves Hingrat
Restoration of Declining Species in Arid Lands: Learnings from the North African Houbara Bustard Translocation Program in Morocco
Reneco International Wildlife Consultants, LLC, United Arab Emirates