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1st International Symposium on the Conservation and Propagation of Endangered Species of Birds

Posted on 13. April, 2011.

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The First International Symposium on the Conservation and Propagation of Endangered Species of Birds was held at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi from 3 to 11 February 2011.  This meeting was sponsored by the Department of the President’s Affairs as part of an extensive program to protect biological diversity within the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates has made environmental quality a cornerstone of its governmental policy.  This policy is translated into action through a regulatory framework to ensure high quality water, pristine oceans and diverse habitats for the native flora and fauna of the Arabian peninsula.  In cases where the native species are endangered, research centres have been established to develop technologies and programmes for their protection and propagation.

The houbara bustard is part of the heritage of the United Arab Emirates. However, habitat loss and extensive hunting have reduced the houbara population to critical levels. In response, the governments of the United Arab Emirates have established several research centres that are responsible for restoration of the houbara population in the Arabian Peninsula.  In 2010, these initiatives culminated in the development of inter-specific chimeras as a route to re-populating houbaras in their native environments in the United Arab Emirates.  To celebrate this success, His Highness Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates sponsored an international meeting to share this breakthrough with others from the global community of avian biologists.

The principles that have been established by the research programs in the UAE could be applied to conservation programs for many avian species in other parts of the world.  The goal of this symposium was to foster the dissemination of these technologies.  In addition, His Highness wished to further global collaborations in the field of avian conservation biology.  By bringing together experts from around the world, the symposium opened new avenues of communication and collaboration.

Approximately 80 delegates from 17 countries were welcomed to the opening session by His Excellency Engr. Moubarak Saad Al Ahbabi, Chairman of the Department of the President’s Affairs and by His Excellency Mohammed Al Bowardi, Deputy Chairman of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, Abu Dhabi.

The theoretical basis for using interspecific chimeras to propagate endangered species of birds was the topic of the first session entitled “Biology of Germ Cells”. It was followed by a session on “Manipulating the Avian Genome” in which the various culture systems for germline competent cells were discussed.  The third session focussed on assisted reproductive technologies currently in use and predicted for avian species.  In the fourth session, all of the interspecific chimeras that have been produced during the past decade were described and discussed.  A session on artificial insemination of birds summarised the latest technological advances in this field.  In birds, the female germline can only be transmitted through female chimeras and the male germline can only be transmitted through male chimeras.  The biology behind this observation and the topic of sex determination and sexual differentiation were the topic of Session VI.  The final session of the conference was devoted to applications of current technologies for the conservation and propagation of endangered species of birds.

Professor Sir Martin Evans, President of Cardiff University was the feature speaker at the symposium banquet.  In 2007, Sir Martin Evans was one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  The prize was awarded in recognition of his ground-breaking discovery of mouse embryonic stem cells, their utility in making modifications to the genome and in the technology surrounding their isolation and propagation in vitro.  Sir Martin’s work was a very important precursor to the idea of using primordial germ cells to propagate endangered species of birds and his address continues to inspire the search for a pan-avian approach to propagate endangered species of birds using inter-specific chimeras.

In the coming issues of Avian Biology Research, summaries of the presentations at the First International Symposium on the Conservation and Propagation of Endangered  Species of Birds will be published.

Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE devoted both  time and resources to the preservation of  the natural habitat of the Arabian peninsula and engagement with the rest of the world . He said, “We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognized the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations. With God’s will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage”.   Through the houbara project and the symposium that was held at the Emirates Palace Hotel from 8 to 11 February 2011 the Department of the President’s Affairs continues the vision of protecting the environment and participating in the latest developments in environmental science on the international stage.

Robert J Etches
President and CEO
Crystal Bioscience Inc
Emeryville CA 94608,USA