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Lifestyle Viral and Trending 17 Oct 2019 Cultural practice of ...

Cultural practice of falconry in Middle East has become increasingly rare

Published Oct 17, 2019, 10:52 am IST
Updated Oct 17, 2019, 10:52 am IST
Authentic hunts which have been practised for centuries by nomadic tribes of the Middle East.
This has provided a lucrative source of income for Spanish breeders that is showing little sign of letting up. (Photo: AFP)
 This has provided a lucrative source of income for Spanish breeders that is showing little sign of letting up. (Photo: AFP)

United Arab Emirates: For centuries, the art of falconry has been a prestigious tradition within Arab society. Today most of these formidable predators come from Spain, which has become the world's top exporter.

In upper-class Gulf society, these swift-flighted hunters are worth a fortune, with buyers sometimes shelling out tens of thousands of euros per bird. "The feathers must be completely whole," says Juan Antonio Sanchez, proudly showing off one of his falcons which is about to be shipped to Qatar.


Every year, around 150 of them leave the breeding facility that he runs with his partner Beatriz Dominguez in Fuentespina in the arid Castille region, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Madrid.

Most are headed for the Middle East where rich amateurs buy them for racing or hunting. A breeder for more than 15 years, Sanchez and others helped turn Spain into the world's number one exporter of falcons in 2018, according to figures from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Last year, Spain exported some 2,800 specimens, almost all of them to Gulf countries, easily passing the 2,500 sold by the United Kingdom. With 52 falcons due to be flown out the next day, Sanchez and Dominguez are making last-minute preparations for their journey.


With the help of two employees and their seven-year-old daughter, they take the birds out of the enclosures where they have been raised for the past three to five months, far from prying eyes.

After securing the falcons' claws with leather straps, they cover their eyes, then place them on perches where they will stay for the night. The silence and their inability to see have a calming effect, reducing stress levels before the journey.

The next day they will be loaded onto a lorry then transported to Madrid airport where, after passing veterinary checks and other formalities, they will be put on a plane to Qatar. "I'm always waiting for news, so I bring them up and ask: have they got there yet, are they OK? Give them something to eat and drink things like that," smiles Sanchez, 49. "It's like having a child."  


On the perches is a stunning array of hybrids, these particular ones produced by crossing the gyr, the biggest and most elegant species of falcon, with the peregrine, which is the fastest. Spain has an age-old tradition of falconry dating back to the Middle Ages when the Visigoths and the Arabs introduced it to the region.