Osha Al Mansoori, at only 10 is the youngest Emirati female falconer in the country. She’s a bit of a rockstar in the falconry world and was first introduced to these majestic birds of prey when she was just six months old. She recently met Nicolas Heard, Acting Director General of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund at the Jubail Mangrove Park to learn more about his conservation journey.
OSHA AL MANSOORI What is the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund?
NICOLAS HEARD The MBZ Fund help people all around the world to help protect endangered species and to prevent them going extinct. The Fund does this by providing small grants to those people on the ground, doing local species conservation projects.
OA What exactly do you do for the fund?
NH I help the process of making sure the grant money which we have available to support species conservation gets to the right people to implement the best projects. Since we started, we’ve helped more than 2600 projects with funding support.
OA How do you decide which projects to support?
NH We, as a group, look at whether the species is threatened and assess whether the project would help to reduce the threats to the species. If so, we also look at whether the person applying, and the project would be able to support the conservation of that species in the future as well. But it is a difficult process as there are many factors to take into account to make a decision, and many good projects submitted. More than we are able to provide funding for.
OA What made you decide to work in conservation?
NH I have always been interested in nature and the natural world around us. Ever since I was young and spent a lot of time outdoors – camping, hiking, spending time on the sea. It was much later that I really became familiar with conservation as a discipline within environmental protection which supports the wonderful nature we have on our planet.
OA How long have you been employed by the fund?
NH I have been with the Fund since early 2009.
OA Which of your projects at the fund has been your favourite so far?
NH There are so many that it is hard to narrow this down. Generally, I love the projects that have had a clear result and have provided protection for species that would otherwise not have received conservation attention. Some of the insects and small mammals for example.
OA What do you find fascinating about your work?
NH I find the dedication of the people involved in conservation to be fascinating, and also the breadth of skills and talents that can be brought to have a positive impact on biodiversity conservation – from zoologists and botanists to graphic designers and sociologists.
OA What are the advantages of protecting species?
NH By protecting species we are protecting our planet, and the state of biodiversity and nature which has evolved over billions of years. As far as we know earth is the only place with life in the universe and so every fragment of that has to be important. Our natural planet is the only one on which humans can exist, and we cannot survive in a severely degraded environment.
OA To you, what do falcons represent?
NH Falcons to me represent highly evolved aerial hunters – which leads to their cultural importance globally and their ecological importance in maintaining ecosystems.
OA Which kind of falcon do you prefer, and did you contribute to any fund-related projects that involved falcons?
NH I do love Saker falcons, but unfortunately so far, we have not provided a grant for direct falcon conservation, although we have supported 384 bird related projects from vultures, lorikeets, macaws, and eagles to name a few.
OA What do you think of the UAE logo showing the falcons?
NH I think it is very evocative of the relationship between the UAE and falconing, and hence the importance of maintaining that connection with nature.
OA How significant do you believe falcons are in terms of conservation?
NH Falcons are important predators, which means they help to maintain a balanced ecosystem by controlling herbivores, for example. In almost all ecosystems, healthy numbers of predators lead to a healthy ecosystem.
OA How can I help the UAE’s conservation efforts as a falconer, in your opinion?
NH I think that as a falconer you have to be very aware of the bird’s natural requirements, and what its natural niche would be in an ecosystem.
OA Can young people like me contribute to conservation efforts? If yes, how?
NH Everyone can contribute. This can either be through direct conservation action (after some studying!), but also simply living in a way which is kind to nature. We all use far too many resources, and we should all be aware that everything we buy, consume, discard, and prioritise has an impact on nature. Every one of us can consider whether that impact is positive or not.
OA Thank you, that was fun and insightful.
NH Thank you for your time.