07 November 2013

The mighty Saker

Week 44, 29 October 2013 - On route to Al Abraq

Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry in it's natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. The art and practice of falconry is a contentious subject for many, but also a sport that has a long history.

Evidence suggests that the art of falconry may have begun in Mesopotamia with the earliest accounts dating to approximately 2000 BC, Historically, falconry was a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe, the Middle East and the Mongolian Empire. Falconry was largely restricted to the noble classed due to the prerequisite commitment of time, money and space. Within nomadic societies like the Bedouin, falconry was not practiced by noblemen. Instead, falcons were trapped and hunted on small game during the winter months to supplement a very limited diet.

The art of falconry is still practiced in many countries; in some countries it is strongly legislated and regulated, whilst in others there is little to no legislation or regulation and acquisition of these magnificent birds is questionable. But there is certainly a black market trade for these raptors where large sums of money are paid for birds that are trapped on migration or taken from nests and smuggled in for the buyers.  

Birdlife Middle East has included assessing the knowledge and research gaps as well as reviewing the conservation of the Saker Falcon as part if it's Preventing Extinctions Program. This species warrants much more protection than it currently has, as it is the most favoured falcon by falconers in the Region. 

Dave White and I were on a visit to the western oasis farm Al-Abraq when we came across two falconers flying and training their falcons in the desert. We decided to approach them and ask if we could watch and take photographs of these magnificent Saker's. Our Arabic was as poor as their English, but in the end we each understood each other - but they were clear that we should only take pictures of the birds and not them - which raised the acquisition question in my mind.

As two ex-pats who will have little to no influence on changing legislation or regulation, we rather just enjoyed the time we spent with these powerful raptors and the falconers who really did care for them. 

I'm 100% certain that these are not pure Sakers, as some inter-breeding does take place in captivity to produce the 'ultimate' falcon.

The first bird had already flown, so these are just a few of it on the glove having it's reward meal.

Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in the western desert

The second and bigger bird had not yet flown, so we were treated to it flying from 200m away to a swinging lure, catching the lure and then being rewarded for it's efforts.

Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) coming in fast and low

Checking before smashing the lure

The 'kill'

The 'prey' is subdued and the bird takes a breath

Flying off with it's 'prey'

A real reward for it's successful flight

Saker Portrait

It was with some sadness that we left the falconers and continued to the farm, sad that these birds were not free-flying, but also aware that their owners do take good care of them and perhaps do also breed with them.

So, in an indirect way, could this be associated with sustainability of the species?

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