Falconry is a traditional sport of hunting by confidential falcons or hawks. We can enjoy and promote all the best of modern falconry and support its traditional forms as well. We must protect and promote these susceptible, alternative aspects and practices of falconry as precious embodiments of world cultural history. Falconry is an art, which requires extended hours, steady devotion, refinement, subtleness and skill. The falconer must train a bird (prey) to fly free, hunt for a human being and then accept a return to custody (IAF, 2014).
Falconry appeared with the emergence of civilizations and was already popular in the Middle East and Arabian Gulf region several millennia BC. In the Al Rafidein region (Iraq) it was widely practiced 3500 years BC; in 2000 BC the Gilgamesh Epic clearly referred to hunting with birds of prey in Iraq. The Babylonians created a Divan for falcons and made game reserves for quarry species. Al Harith Bin Mu’awiya, an early King of the present regime that includes Saudi Arabia, was one of the first who trained and hunted falcons. The Omayyad caliphs and princes, Mu’awiya bin Abi Sufyan, Hisham bin Abdul Malek, practiced falconry, and falconry had a good position in the Abbasid period. The caliph Haroun Al Rasheed was fond of the sport and exchanged falcon-gifts with the other kings (UAE Interact, 2014).
The Arab poets composed many poems lauding the falcon and all Arab classes Kings, Sheikhs and cavalry practiced falconry and bequeathed it to the next generations. The Arabian Gulf region became famous for its falconers and falconry traditions. Through the Arab influence, the art of falconry spread out through the Islamic World. Eastwards into the great Islamic Empires of Central Asia and westwards across North Africa to the Magreb, and in turn giving the distinctive styles of falconry such as the Bedouin, Kingdom of Morocco and the Magreb Tunisia (passage sparrow-hawks at quail note similarities with the falconry of eastern Turkey and Transcaucasia) (UAE Interact, 2014).
The Holy Quran itself includes a falconry-related verse that permits falconry as a hunting method. Falconry is considered a symbol of this region’s civilization more than any other region in the world; 50% of the world’s falconers exist in the Middle East, which includes the Arab region. In the philosophy of the region, hunting trips teach patience, endurance, self-reliance, and bravery can be learned from falcons (Glasier, 1998).
Today, falconry is practiced purely for sport, but the skill of the falconer is still highly esteemed and the power and beauty of the falcon greatly treasured. The training process hasn’t changed over time. A leather hood is used to cover the falcon’s eyes and it is deprived of food in order to make it easier to tame. The falconer names his falcon, and in the first few weeks of training remains with his falcon at all times. During the day the falcon perches on the falconer’s leather glove, while the falconer holds the leather leg-tethers that restrain the bird. The feathered lure is always nearby. By night, the falcon is tethered to a wooden perch (IAF, 2014).
As training commences, the falconer removes the hood and allows the bird to move from its perch to his hand whilst held by its leg restraints. Eventually the falcon will be permitted to make short flights. The falconer will then stand with the lure and some raw meat a short distance from the bird. A companion removes the bird’s hood whilst the falconer calls the bird’s name and swings the lure. When the bird catches the lure the falconer rewards it with a little raw meat. Later still, the training will incorporate live prey, such as a tethered pigeon (Parry-Jones, 2012).
Unfortunately, Houbara bustard is almost extinct in the wild in the UAE, but captive breeding programs are hoping to remedy this. Measures are also in place to protect and preserve falcons. Falconry is controlled by law and falcons are returned to the wild at the end of the annual hunting season, was placed in isolation at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where they are given a full medical check-up to ensure that only completely healthy birds enter the wild population. Each falcon is also micro-chipped for ease of identification (IAF, 2014).
Falconry has been an essential part of desert life which has been and continues to be practiced in the UAE over centuries. Formerly, falcons were used for hunting, to complement the Bedouin diet with some meat, such as hare or Houbara. Both Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed have shown great concern and support for this important part of the UAE’s cultural heritage. The art is still in existence.
International Association For Falconry And Conservation Of Birds Of Prey. A History Of
Falconry. Retrieved on 11th June 2014 from: http://www.iaf.org/HistoryFalconry.php.UAE Interact. Falconry. Retrieved on 11th June 2014 from:
Glasier, P. (1998). Falconry and hawking. London: Batsford.
Parry-Jones, J. (2012). Jemima Parry-Jones’ falconry: Care, captive breeding and conservation.
Cincinnati: F+W Media.