Founding Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
Managing Director of Emirates Nature-WWF
Managing Director of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi
I present the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) electorate with a fresh, bold, and youthful vision for the future. With more than two decades of experience in leading a local environmental NGO, the largest environmental regulator in the Middle East and a global philanthropy organization dedicated to species conservation, provides me with a unique perspective from which to lead IUCN. Not only do I understand IUCN from various membership levels, but also from the viewpoint of a framework donor and a longtime and strong supporter of the Species Survival Commission. If elected, I will be only the second woman to lead IUCN in its 72-year history. As the mother of a young daughter, I also feel a deep responsibility to ensure we do everything possible to protect our planet for future generations. At this critical moment, IUCN requires dedicated and energetic leadership. I am 100 percent committed to making the Union stronger than ever before and ensuring it plays a leading and more effective role in strengthening global conservation efforts.
The challenge of the president of IUCN is to enable IUCN to be a more assertive, timely, and effective advocate for nature conservation globally. To realize its full potential, IUCN must address four key issues. First, IUCN must develop and effectively apply its knowledge products (Red List of Threatened Species, WDPA, Red List of Ecosystems, etc.) and extensive expertise in nature conservation. Second, IUCN must better coordinate its efforts among councilors, regional offices, regional and national committees, and its membership—so that the Union works together in concert. Third, IUCN must reassert its role as the world’s leading authority on conservation by drawing upon a clear vision for nature conservation and drumming-up support for it. Lastly, IUCN must collaborate with multinational organizations, such as CITES, WTO, and WHO, to bring forward a unified approach to nature conservation.
Serving on the board of directors of the Al Ain Zoo in the UAE at the time when it was undergoing significant restructuring and development, gave me first-hand experience in managing and supervising all aspects of a zoological garden, including their role in global conservation efforts. This overlapped with a time when I was also head of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). A significant project at EAD, done in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and the Zoological Society of London, was the reintroduction of the scimitar-horned oryx into Chad. Together, these organizations collaborated to realize the most ambitious large mammal reintroduction program to date.
We shared expertise in diplomacy, herd management, vaccinations, genetics, breeding, logistics, GPS tracking, financial planning, monitoring, and evaluation. This unprecedented and collaborative effort has made the initiative a resounding success. We anticipate that the current Red List status of the scimitar-horned oryx will soon be changed from Extinct in the Wild to Critically Endangered. The initiative provides a model for innovative species reintroduction that can be replicated globally and reinforces the power and impact of zoos in global conservation.
In an editorial in The Ecologist in May 2020, I addressed this issue by writing: “What is clear to me now is that conservationists have yet to succeed in highlighting the critical link between nature and our own health, perhaps because it is only now that we are experiencing the magnitude of this link. We can no longer afford to beat around the bush: the origin of this pandemic and the ensuing socio-economic crisis is ultimately an ecological one. As we encroach upon and destroy wild spaces and the species that inhabit them, we are essentially destroying our first line of defense. By breaking existential protective barriers against pathogens, we lose the natural dilution and filtering services that healthy ecosystems provide humanity. I believe that this global crisis has taught us that respecting and acting through the mutual dependence of organizations like WHO, the WTO, and IUCN is more important than ever. As we prepare to reopen our nations and implement ambitious recovery plans, we have to collectively recommit to a better, more encompassing and coordinated global governance, in order to prevent or address future pandemics, economic crises, climate catastrophe, biodiversity loss, and other existential threats.”
By some estimates we are losing 10,000 species to extinction every year. This is a rate 1,000 times the historical average. Habitat loss, over-exploitation, pollution, and climate change are the main causes of this loss. Yet, at the same time, we are also winning battles in our fight against biodiversity loss. For example, Abu Dhabi had over-exploited its fish stocks for decades. Last year, the emirate took the critical step of banning commercial fishing and fish stocks are now rebounding with some estimating the biomass has increased by 10 percent in less than a year.
The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, where I serve as Managing Director, has also found great success with micro-grants for species conservation projects. Since 2009, more than 2,100 projects in 160 countries have been funded, supporting more than 1,450 different species and subspecies. Our conservation grants, like those from many zoos and aquariums in the United States, go to support boots-on-the-ground, get-your-hands-dirty conservation projects to save the worlds most endangered species. Our grant recipients have discovered new species, rediscovered others, saved many from the brink of extinction and reduced threats to countless others. As conservationists, we know what needs to be done. Now is the time to accelerate and scale-up this effort at individual, regional, national, and multinational levels.