UAE falconry heritage explored by British expat

by Nour Salman ABU DHABI, 2nd April, 2018 (WAM) — ‘Al Qanas’, or Falconry, is deeply ensconced in UAE heritage. Dating back to pre-Islamic times, falconry was an integral part of desert life and practiced to supplement a Bedouin community’s diet. Now practiced as a sport, falconry is seen as a beloved pastime in the UAE.

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan would set out on falconry hunting expeditions with family members for brief moments of leisure away from the cares and responsibilities of rule and office. The UAE’s Founding Father was adamant in ensuring that falconry is instilled within the nation’s citizens, whilst ensuring that ethical training and taming practices were applied by young and old, locals and expats.

Harry Garland, a British expat falconer at the Dubai Falcon Centre, spoke to the Emirates News Agency, WAM, on the sport and its future in the UAE. Introduced to the sport by his father as a young child, Garland fondly recalls his first experience flying hawks back home, “When I started at a young age in the UK, I was flying hawks alongside ferrets, cars and at night time with a lamp which was great fun.” After two seasons of observing and practicing falcon training, hunting and racing, Garland is accompanied by his falcon hunting and racing partner, English.

Two bird species that people in the Arab Gulf prefer to train are ‘Al-Hur’ (Saqr) and ‘Ash-Shaheen’ (Peregrine). Commenting on the different sport practices experienced in the UK and UAE, Garland said that the spotlight in the UAE is now on races, adding that while hunting is still practiced, a shortage of quarry sees falconers venturing outside of the UAE to find good hunting grounds – an aspect readily available in the UK.

When asked about the future of falconry, Garland expressed his optimism, saying that falcon racing is gaining greater attention across a number of countries. “This [growing attention] is great for the future [of falconry] as it brings more interest into the field and therefore the heritage and culture of the UAE continues to thrive,” he added.

As for hunting purposes, Garland hopes for more opportunities in the local area to arise. The UAE leadership’s conservation projects to regulate hunting and conserve quarry for the future are important steps towards carrying this cultural pastime forward to future generations.

These conservation efforts date back to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan’s various initiatives, which included the world’s first International Conference on Falconry and Conservation, held in the UAE capital in 1976. The young nation was also the first country in the world to issue passports for falcons in an effort to support the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, CITES, which seeks to crack down on illegal smuggling of falcons and birds of prey.

Speaking on conservation and animal welfare, Garland went on to say that the welfare of falcons in the UAE is exceptional, due to the large number of falcon hospitals and highly skilled veterinarians and doctors that have concentrated on the health of the bird of prey. “Falconers also hold falcons in very high regard and the connection is usually similar to a family member,” he said.

Captive breeding has made a huge positive effect on the conservation of falcons in recent times, he continued, adding that “instead of wild falcons being taken for the purpose of hunting, more falconers are turning to captive birds to be their hunting and racing partners.” This allows for some of the falcons to be released into the wild, providing a chance for the bird species to naturally breed and thrive, the British falconer explained.

The late Sheikh Zayed was an insightful, contemporary falconer and conservationist. His vision for sustainable hunting placed him at the forefront of modern conservationism.

With 2018 being declared as the Year of Zayed, it is evident that the legacy left behind by the late Sheikh Zayed continues to thrive with each and every falconer throughout the UAE, Garland said. “Falconry is a way of remembering the close connection that previous ancestors had with the falcon as a means to collect food and work together to survive. The various organisations that were set up by the late ruler including the Abu Dhabi Falconers Club and the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital have also helped to maintain the culture and ease of participation in the UAE.”


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