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21st November 2006

Falconry a noble art dating back over 1,000 years.

Visitors to the United Arab Emirates usually have a checklist of things that are definite ‘must dos’.

A picture of the Burj Al Arab? Absolutely. Desert Safari? Definitely. Shopping in some of the world’s best malls? Of course!

But there are some other facets of life in the Gulf that are often overlooked but which, if tried, can give a unique insight into the lives and background of the indigenous Arab population. One of the most intriguing is to spend some time getting to know the intricacies of a sport that is as fascinating as is graceful. The sport is falconry, a noble art dating back over 1,000 years.

The history of falconry – basically the training and flying of falcons in order to catch wild quarry – can be traced back to as long ago as 2000 BC in the Middle and Far East.

Merchants, adventurers, and crusaders from Europe and England became familiar with falconry in the Middle East and, on their return home, took falcons and falconers with them.

In medieval England it became the favoured field sport among the privileged classes for over four centuries. At the time, hunting with birds was popular with anyone who could afford to buy and keep a bird of prey. Indeed, having your own falcon was seen as a status symbol. During the 17th century, however, after the advent of the shotgun and the enclosure of open lands and numerous social upheavals, falconry virtually died out, surviving in Europe largely through the enthusiasm of members of hawking clubs.

Exhibiting the sport.

For the past two years, the UAE’s commitment to maintaining its strong links with the past and with its love of hunting as well as horses has been underlined at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX) which showcases the latest developments from the manufacturers of guns, hunting vehicles, shooting, fishing, falconry, other outdoor sports equipment and accessories.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Emirates Falconers’ Club, ADIHEX sees different falcon breeders from around the world exhibiting birds as well as various hunting tools and equipment used in falconry.

It’s the perfect opportunity to get the chance to communicate with falconers and falconry equipment makers to exchange ideas on making items such as hoods, gloves and hunting bags, while a special facility is created to allow the falconers to display the flying styles of several birds.

First held in 2005, the exhibition attracts over 350 exhibitors from 36 countries and with more than 65,000 visitors taking the chance to get up close and personal with the sport it’s easy to see why falconry remains a key attraction in the emirates.

So how do you get a chance to see these noble creatures in action? Although visitors to the UAE are not very likely to witness a Bedouin falcon hunt, it is possible to see them fly their birds during training.

In addition, organizations such as Al Hurr Falconry Services specialize in using falconry techniques in an effort to ‘persuade’ flocks of pesky birds to vacate facilities where they may be unwanted by residents, while they also provide falconry displays for visitors to Dubai as well as static falcon displays for corporate events and photo shoots.

There are several sites around Dubai where falcons are being flown every day of the early winter and these can be found by contacting local travel and tour operators or by asking your hotel concierge for more information on falcon shows and displays.

A desert safari coupled with an example of falconry is a memorable experience for the first time visitor to the emirates. The unique bond of trust between bird and handler is near tangible and very few who witness the sight of a falcon as it glides, swoops and hovers over its prey will leave the demonstration without that all important picture of the falcon perched regally on your falconer’s glove.
Taken in part from an article by Alan Ewans for Concierge Magazine October 2006