Bird Conservation International

Research Articles

A 10-year assessment of Asian Houbara Bustard populations: trends in Kazakhstan reveal important regional differences

SAMUEL RIOUa1 c1, JACKY JUDASa1, MARK LAWRENCEa1, SERGUEI POLEa2 and OLIVIER COMBREAUa1

a1 National Avian Research Center, International Fund for Houbara Conservation, PO Box 45553, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

a2 Kazakh Scientific Centre for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases, Xaplaskaja 14, Almaty, 480074, Republic of Kazakhstan.

Summary

A sharp decline in the numbers of Asian Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii towards the end of the 20th century raised concerns about the conservation status of this species. Yet due to its large breeding range in the remote steppes and deserts of Central Asia and to its cryptic behaviour, it has been difficult to obtain enough comparable data to make reliable estimates of population trends. Here, we present the results of 10 years of extensive biannual surveys throughout southern Kazakhstan, considered to host the majority of the breeding birds in Asia, and we discuss trends in the Kazakh populations for the first decade of this century. The breeding Houbara population has generally declined over the greater part of Kazakhstan between 2000 and 2009 but with important regional differences. A steep decline was observed in north-east Caspian and Karakum, and a sharp drop followed by a stabilisation occurred in Kyzylkum. Over the same period, estimated densities were stable or increased in the area surrounding Lake Balkash, and increased in the Betpak-Dala region of central Kazakhstan. Autumn surveys showed more variability and revealed little decline overall. It was also clear that Betpak-Dala and Balkash regions hosted the largest populations. Our findings suggest that it is a complex undertaking to assign a level of vulnerability for this species as a whole. Highly variable population trends between regions indicate that threats and pressures are to a considerable extent region-specific, and that conservation measures need to be adjusted locally.

(Received November 18 2009)

(Accepted March 16 2010)

(Online publication July 28 2010)

Correspondence:

c1 Author for correspondence; email: sriou@ead.ae