Sunday, 13 May 2012

Falconry in UAE

I absolutly love Falcons and I remember many times I asked O if I could have my own one.
I was fortunate to have been taken into the desert quite a few times by O's cousin Hazeem and was shown how to hunt (Hazeem used to help train the late Sheikh Zayed's falcons many years ago and also travelled with him when he went hunting) .

They are such a majestic bird and Falconry (Al Qanas) was a favorite activity of Sheikh Zayed and many of the Sheikhs and UAE locals and is still a very traditional sport today.

I remember sometimes on  flights to and from Qatar that young locals and Qatari's would get on the flight with their falcons and would sit with them on their arm as the plane was in the air. Im not sure if that is allowed today, but back then nobody flinched when birds were in the passenger section of the plane.

There are two types of falcon used for hunting in UAE "Saqr" which is the most popular and the Peregrine.
The male Saqr is called  Garmoush and the female is called Al Hurr. Believe it or not the female Saqr is used more often due to it being larger and more powerful than the male. The same goes for the Peregrine, the female (Shahin) is often thought a better hunter than the male (Shahin Tiba).
The Saqr is more favoured by the Emirati mainly due to the fact it is well suited to desert hunting.

You need to have a lot of patience and courage to train a falcon to be ready to hunt. Trainers are known as Saqqar's and they have the skills to teach the bird to hunt and return to its owner.

The little cap the falcon wears is know as Al Burgu and it is made of decorated leather and covers the falcons eyes. This is due to the fact the falcons have very sharp vision acuity and the Al Burgu helps the falcon to be slowly adjusted to new environments. The trainer or falcon owner will also have with him a canvas bag known as Al Mukhlat which inside often has pigeon or houbara wings so that he can use the contents of the bag to lure the falcon back. The lure of the falcon is know as Milwah or Tilwah.

If you have ever seen photos of falcon hunting you will see the bird often perches upon a seat type thing. This is known as the Wakir and it is normally a very ornamated long wooden stand with a flat padded top so the falcon can rest his claws.
When the bird sits on the trainer or owners arm, the arm is protected by the sharp talons of the falcon by a covered cuff called a Manqalah. This is made from material often stuffed with straw or some type of cloth.
The owner needs to restrain the falcon especially after a catch so they use light but strong tethers which are fitted to the falcons ankles. These are usually stong and flexible braided nylon around 30cm's long known as  Subuq and are then tied together to make a shorter cord. this is then attached to a swivel, both cords and swivel allow the falcon some freedom of movement.while not allowing it to actually fly. The whole thing is know as the Mursel.

When hunting is to start the owner will usually shout Yalla and the falcon will lift off flaping its huge wings so it is able to reach a powerful assent into the sky. Once the falcon spots its prey it chases it which can last quite a while. Once the prey slows down, the falcon swoops down onto the prey and pulls it to the desert floor. In UAE the falcon's main prey is Houbara, Stone Curlew (Karawan) and Hare (Arnab). As the Houbara in particular is such a large and speedy bird, this is a particular favorite for owner and falcon to hunt as it makes the thrill of the chase more exciting.

The falcon and owner have an amazing relationship and both have a great deal of respect for each other.
I never got my own falcon because O told me he did not think I had the patience to be able to spend time training it. However on the rare occasions I got to go out with these beautiful birds and see them in action, I loved every minute of it.


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