Wildlife in Abu Dhabi
Arab falconry dates back at least to 3500BC when it was practiced in Iraq. In Babylon it is believed that game reserves were even established for the birds and Al Harith bin Mu’awiya, a local king would train and hunt with the birds.
During the Abbasid period the sport of Arab falconry was also practiced by caliphs and royalty. Caliph Haroun Al Rasheed gave falcons as gifts to other royals. Before modern roads the tribal leaders, sheikhs, could send messages between camps using the falcons.
The Bedouin people also employed falcons to provide meat for their people.
The falcons were captured when making their annual winter migration across the peninsula, kept and trained for hunting and then released again before the summer months in good health.
Falconry became a cultural symbol of the region and the UAE’s national emblem and today fifty percent of all falconers come from the Middle East.
An interesting point is that animals caught by a falcon are acceptable under the Muslim dietary laws because of the method that the bird kills it’s prey, biting through the neck.
Falconry is the care of falcons, a bird of prey and in the UAE falconry has long been a national sport thought to have originated with the Arabs who came for Persia.
The people of the UAE love and respect these birds for their power and grace. The aim is to nurture the relationship between the falcon and falconer and build up trust, skill and patience.
There are two kinds of falcon birds used for hunting in the UAE, the Saqr Falcon and the Peregrine Falcon. The female birds are used in the desert for “hawking”- the hunting of small prey.
Training of Falcons
Training falcons entails the falconer wearing a tough cuff (Mangalah) to protect his hand, the falcon sits on the falconer’s gloved hand and is attached by two pieces of thread (Al Sabbuq).
The falcon’s eyes are covered by an Al Burgu so that he can slowly adjust to a new environment. The falcon is seated on a padded stick called a wakir, then on the falconer’s call he shoots up into the air and seeks his prey, once spotted he dives to catch it and then needs to be recalled.
The trainer uses pieces of prey (houbara) from a bag (Al Mukhlat) to attract the bird back after it has made its catch. The falcon is attached to two nylon chains which are joined to a small ball to help the bird in it’s flight. The falcons can chase Houbara birds or hare among other pray.
A valuable and well trained falcon could cost in the range of 10,000’s of Dirhams and the birds are also a status symbol for the owners.
UAE Falcon Sanctuaries
With the changes in modern UAE, industry, technology and urban development the UAE has taken the lead in developing sanctuaries for falcons as well as breading facilities, falcon hospitals and educational programs.
Shaheen Xtreme Falconry is a company which offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with these mighty birds.
At the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Resort and Spa you can take the Tibba Package where you get an evening watching a falconry display; the Eagle Owl and Golden eagle; have a falcon land on your gloved hand and get a tour of the falcon mews.
The cost is 230AED for adults and 130AED for kids. You can also spend a few hours here interacting with the birds and learning about the traditional and modern techniques used to train the falcons. Cost is 900 AED for adults and 750 AED for kids. There is also a two day falconry course at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Falconry Mews.
You can visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital where you can see a falconry show, visit the Hospital Falconry Museum and visit falcons that are currently in hospital. You can also have your photo taken with a falcon sitting on you. The tours are conducted from Sunday to Thursday 10am-2pm.
In the City of Al Ain there is an annual Arab Falconry Festival in December and in September the International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition in Abu Dhabi. At the Bedouin Village in Dubai you can also see a falcon show.