Monday, February 20, 2017

Falconry in Arabia

Approximately 3000 falcons are employed for falconry on the Arabian Peninsula each year. Between 2/3 and 3/4ths are used in the Arabian Gulf region. Saker Falcons represent at least 70% of the captive falcon population thought Arabia. Peregrine Falcons are commonly encountered in the Arabian Gulf region but diminish toward the interior of Saudi Arabia. Other falcons such as the Lanner Falcon form less than 2% of the total captive raptor population. They capture these birds in the fall migration and about 60% are released each spring on natural migratory flyways as fattened and experienced hunters.

It was written that in Arabia: “even more than was the case in medieval Europe, which was so much richer in food supplies, game taken by the Arab’s trained hawk was an important addition to his thin diet. Wild hawks were trapped by rich and poor alike and were flown through the winter months when quarry became available. The Arabs flew their hawks because they wanted to hunt and eat. They did not go hunting because they wanted to see their hawks fly. This is an important distinction to bear in mind, because it underlies the techniques and apparent ruthlessness for desert hawking.” The Arab style of Falconry is still practical, even though it has long ceased to be utilitarian for the sheikhs and princes. Its technique and style are also influenced by available quarry (mainly Houbara Bustar and the Stone Curlew). Female Peregrines are preferred for hunting because of their size and strength that enable them to cope with the larger prey items. It is also because of the Peregrines speed and dive in which is highly regarded, a “ringing dive” is a sign of courage and strength to the Arab people. The falcons are taught to be aggressive in kill but tameness is quickly instilled by constant handling and by a reduced diet.

Stress precedes many diseases observed in falcons in the Arabian Gulf. Medically it is an influence causing physiological homeostasis of an organism, causing an overproduction of adrenal hormones, which act to suppress the immune system. Some of the causes of stress on a falcon may be a confined area of living causing physical discomfort, extremes in environmental conditions, and poor nutrition. There is one common ailment though that may harm a falcon though, Bumble foot, an infection of the foot. In the Arabian Gulf it arises from self-inflicted punctures by sharp or badly overgrown talons. In the Bedouin tradition, they do not take care of this because they feel that needle-sharp talons are necessary for falcon’s hunting success. Bedouin falconers recognize only obvious symptoms and combine them into single diseases of the mouth, feet, or breathing. Some folk treatments provide at least visual improvement, but are often not completely cured. The poor success of most ancient remedies creates an underlying sense of futility about medicine. The Bedouin are impatient with long-term treatment. Unless something looks better almost immediately, treatment is usually abandoned and the bird may be released to “Allah’s will” if it continues not to improve in this sense of historical falconry. Fortunately more modern techniques and medicines are able to treat many of the ailments to falconer’s keeps. But wild populations released with such illnesses each year may ultimately cause widespread disease and population declines among the Arab populations.