Bird of Prey

, CULTURE

Over 200 falconers from over 80 countries gather in the UAE to celebrate youth and the passing on of falconry knowledge to the next generation

Falcons have been an indispensable hunting tool for Bedouins for hundreds of years. More than that, they have often come to be regarded as a family member. So what is it like to be a falconer? How do you handle a falcon? How do falconers track their lost birds? How do falcons hunt and how fast do they fly? These are a few questions that every young falconer wants to know. With this year’s International Festival of Falconry focusing on youth, a lot of these questions will definitely be answered. Whether you prefer bird watching or royal watching, culture or hunting, the sport of falconry has something for everyone.

The fourth annual International Festival of Falconry will be held in Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi, from December 4-9.
This year’s event promises to be a grand one, with more than 80 countries represented by over 200 falconers, experts and researchers likely to join the festival. Poland, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa and Zimbabwe are few of the countries that are sending representatives from their respective countries. Organisations dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of falconry and the protection of the environment will also be in attendance. The focus of the festival is to inspire and encourage new leaders in falconry, and nurture talent among the young falconers carrying forward this ancient art.

inspiration for many

Falconry is an integral part of desert life and has been practised in the Gulf region for centuries. It dates back to times when no mode of formal communication existed. Being loyal hunting companions of Bedouins and nomadic groups in other Middle Eastern societies, falconry was the sole source of sustainment for desert dwellers. However, as soon as the trade and interaction began amongst countries, falconry came to be identified as a favourite hobby for the nobility and the aristocrats. Falconry has also given inspiration to many poets, artists and literature laureates with several works of arts on it.

The Mughals brought the ancient tradition to India and the humble sparrow hawk became the cynosure of many, including Emperor Akbar. In Europe, Falconry was considered a symbol of high social status and was an important part of a gentleman’s education. However, it was the Middle Eastern countries that came to nurture this sport. Almost 50% of the world’s falconers reside in the Middle East. In 2010, falconry was recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (ICH) giving it a status no other hunting discipline has achieved yet.

Prime festival

Falconry as an art and practice cannot be learned entirely from books but must be passed from parent to child, or from master falconer to apprentice. Taking ahead this tradition, the festival will be a platform where professionals will help youths learn how to handle a falcon, have it perch on their glove, the equipment used and track their lost birds. There will also be falconry-inspired art workshops led by professionals. Here people can make model birds of prey using clay; paint and draw; learn how to make origami falcons. Young adults can have a go at making and decorating falconry equipment such as hood and bags.

At this festival, professional falconers will also help youth find answers to queries related to the lure and species of raptor. Falconers sometimes use remote-controlled lures, kites, balloons, and drones to train raptors. This technology can help falcons get fit, but is also fun for the falconer! “It might sound easy, but it takes a lot of practice to be an expert,” says a professional.

Every falconer has their preferred type of telemetry, an automatic measurement and wireless transmission of data from remote sources. The festival will also be a platform where people can learn the differences between them, and how technology helps falconers in their art.

Words: Alan Malnar

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