In January, a driver was arrested at Al Darah border, the UAE's northern crossing with Oman, as he attempted to smuggle in 12 houbara bustards.
The birds had been stuffed inside plastic bags with their wings taped and placed in a spare tyre.
Listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a 'vulnerable' species at high risk of extinction, houbara bustards are hunted and trafficked for its meat.
Following extensive medical examinations to assess potential contagious diseases and eight weeks of rehabilitation at IFHC quarantine in Abu Dhabi, the houbaras were released in two groups in the Cholistan Desert in Pakistan on March 22. All 11 birds have been fitted with GPS trackers to monitor their movement, reported Emirates News Agency (WAM).
The first group of five female Asian houbaras were released in Rahimyar approximately 120km from the country's eastern border with India, while a second group comprising five females and a single male were released approximately 40km south of the city of Khanpur.
Three weeks since their release, the bustards' GPS trackers indicate all 11 houbaras are alive and well after rejoining the species' annual migratory route north. 'Thanks to the swift action of UAE Customs and the expert rehabilitation work of our scientific team, the 11 Asian houbaras have been saved and released with no impact on the UAE's delicate ecosystem,' said Majid Ali al Mansouri, managing director, IFHC.
'The release location in Pakistan was handpicked to give the bustards the best chance of rejoining their migratory route. We thank our conservation partners in Pakistan for their fast response and professionalism in helping the fund release the rescued bustards.'
With smuggled houbara typically suffering tremendous stress from capture and illicit transportation, IFHC data show that only one in ten wild houbara survives being smuggled across the UAE border. It is also common for smuggled bustards to carry diseases which can have serious sanitary and health implications to falcons that hunt them and fauna in the wider eco-system.
As part of IFHC's ongoing education efforts with the UAE and wider GCC falconry community, the fund is engaging falconers to highlight the illegal trade's role in the historic decline of houbara populations.
Mansouri said that IFHC will use the rescued 11 Asian houbaras as a case study to educate falconers on the dangers that illegally sourced houbara pose to the traditional Arabian falconry.
In addition to sanitary and health risks to falcons, fauna and the wider eco-system, smuggling houbara also carries serious legal ramifications.
Under UAE Law No 11/2002, which relates to the smuggling of endangered animals, convicted smugglers face a potential fine of AED20,000 to AED50,000, and imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months.