“Falcon Club” organizes “falconry” and develops “tourism” and “create jobs”

December 6, 2017
• Experts: One and a half million birds crossing the Kingdom annually, including falcons
• (Falcon Club) organizes “falconry” and develops “tourism” and “create jobs”
Riyadh, July 26, 2017
Prepared by: Mohammed Al-Qahtani

Archaeological evidence has confirmed that the practice of falconry in the Kingdom dates back to more than 9000 BC. The falcons are symbolic in the human civilizations in general and in the Arabian Peninsula region in particular. They have enjoyed a distinct place among the Arabs, and are greatly associated in their lives. Overtime, falconry has worked its way into the popular culture known as falconry, and has been introduced into modern trade generating millions of dollars a year for many countries.

There are up to 16,929 falcons owned in the Kingdom and up to 20,000 falconers. The Falcon is classified as a bird of prey along with its peers, the vulture and hawk. The Arabs were the first to train them in hunting. Falcons are renowned for their black eyes and amazing speed. They execute a hunting dive, of over 300 km per hour. Their eyesight is estimated at 4 to 8 times stronger than that of the average human with a life span of up to 25 years.

The female falcons, including Shaheen, Alhor, and Alwakry Algeer lay a clutch of five eggs once a year. The Arab kinds are the oldest and most powerful, with the Lazeez being slightly smaller and the Mahkour being the smallest. Most of the brooding and feeding of small young is carried out by the female, while the male hunts to supply the food. The young fledge at 35-42 days, and are independent two or more months later after their parents train them to independently fly, hunt and handle prey. The speeding chicks quickly swoop down catching food dropped by the adults during training before it hits the ground.

Annually, migratory birds migrate from their nesting areas in the northernmost part of Russia (Siberia) to the warmer regions of Africa, cutting a distance of more than 8,000 km. About one and a half million birds pass through the Kingdom every October including Falcons of both types, namely the Shahin and the Hor. Whereas the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the home of the Falcons: free, and the Mountain Shaheen, Hawkry, lime, and hybrid.

The falcon has long been known for its strong connection with the Arabs and is mentioned often in their poems and some of them called their names on their children and their families. The connection progressed further however through falconry as families began to adopt it as a form of living and sustenance and again as a hobby and sport loved by the owners. The sport had its own customs and traditions in terms of etiquette, where the hawks were assessed on speed and the ability to fly, maneuver, hunt and return live prey back to captivity and its master.

Just as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been sanctified to possess the two Holy Mosques being the centre which all Muslims face in prayer it has also been blessed with its geographical position occupying nearly two-thirds of the Arabian Peninsula. It is also a point of contact between three continents namely the European, Asian, and African Equatorial Regions, resulting in the acquisition of unique environmental components which attracted a collection of land, sea and air animals.

The National Authority for Tourism and National Heritage recently announced the discovery of traces of falcons in the Arabian Peninsula attributing it to an ancient civilization over 9000 years BC. They lived in the middle area between the province of Thalith and Wadi al-Dawasir south of Riyadh. Moreover references symbolic of Arab cultures were discovered including equestrian, falconry, and greyhound sports.

On these grounds the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken care of these natural resources, especially in relation to wildlife, and has through its concerned bodies, in particular the Saudi Wildlife Authority, worked to protect and develop these resources. It has engaged on one hand in efforts seeking to invest and ensure in as optimal a manner as possible their survival. It is also working to enhance the value of its heritage and culture for the Saudis, and achieve economic benefits for the country.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, has taken care to preserve the environment and sustainable development, by issuing orders on 7th May, 2016 to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. In line with the Saudi Vision 2030 requirements an amendment was made by the Ministry of Agriculture Environmental and water activities.

On January 21, 2016, he announced the implementation of the King Salman Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Development Program to promote community participation in the localization of sustainable development in the Kingdom. Furthermore, the implementation of a National Capacity Building Program to monitor and measure localization indicators of sustainable development in the Kingdom took place.

The kingdom has recently witnessed a royal decree issued by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to establish the falcon club, in line with the falcon’s connection to our history, heritage and culture. In this context, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, has been appointed as Deputy Director over the club and His Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior as Chairman of the Board of Directors
The initiative did not come as a surprise, after His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Chairman of the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage, outlined in a speech last year at the French Academy of Fine Arts (Academie des Beaux-Arts). It is an extension of cultural heritage and heir to the string of civilizations that he created and participated in the production, protection and development of its economy, in addition to his role as a faithful servant of the holiest Islamic sites from which the message of Islam was sent to the world.

The royal order is further reinforced by the establishment of the Falcon Club. The efforts of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, included the overseeing the launching of the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Fund for the Conservation of Falcons on November 29, 2005 under the supervision of the Saudi Wildlife Authority to support programs to reduce deterioration of falconry both locally and globally. This protected endangered falcons to biologically acceptable levels, and developed programs to improve use of falcons and ensure the continuity of their survival and preserved the noble sport for present and future generations.

According to Dr. Hani bin Mohammed Tatwani, vice president of the Saudi Wildlife Agency, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made outstanding international efforts to preserve falconry. He added that the Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Fund is an extension of his support for the falcon re-launching project which was established to preserve falcons in their natural environment in the Republic of Kazakhstan in its first and second phases.

Speaking to WASS, he claimed that the Kingdom supported the proposal of the Intergovernmental Committee in the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO) on November 16, 2010, in order to document falconry on the World Heritage List. This registration was adopted to undoubtedly contribute to a better vision of this intangible cultural heritage and to highlight its importance and encourage dialogue that respects the cultural diversity of peoples.

Moreover, the Saudi Wildlife Authority, in its interest in falcons, initiated the proposal to establish the Saudi Falconry Society. Dr. Tatwani also stressed that the presence of the Falcon Club will effectively contribute in achieving ideal methods to organize and support programs in the tourism sector, which the state is seeking to develop, in addition to the representation of the Kingdom in this field on an international level.

He asserted that falconry was an important aspect of Arab civilization and heritage. The term ‘falconry’ includes everything related to hunting and falconry, such as capturing the falcon, methods of dealing with it, training it, learning and understanding its psychology, and acquiring knowledge regarding its state of health. It also involves understanding well hunting times, migrating period, and hunting places, in addition to having access to land and proper environment for the launch of the falcon, whether for training or real hunting.
He pointed out that many falconers have excelled in the Kingdom over successive generations. They were able to become acquainted with the art of falconry including capturing falcons, training and taming them and passing on from generation to generation their own means of training. Enthusiasts and falconers in the Kingdom are among the best in the world who have mastered it. He explained that the sport is an important one and a means of teaching humans the love of nature, and virtues such as patience and strength. It also develops and enhances intelligence.

As for the investment value of falconry, Dr. Hani Tatwani said that those practicing this sport can benefit from their falcons and invest in the annual festival competitions which are held to invest in the rich cultural heritage in the Kingdom in many ways. He added it was a suitable outlet for hobbies and sports related to wildlife and activities linked to falconry. Additionally, exhibitions may contain profitable activities related to falcons and their accessories, which will increase and regulate the movement of sales and purchases, and raise the employment rate of workers in the areas of falconry.

The Saudi Wildlife Authority has issued licenses for the import and re-export of falcons in the Kingdom. Between 2007 and 2016, they issued 5153 licenses and started issuing special passports for falconry since 2011. Since the year 2011-2016 4943 licenses have been issued.

The Saudi Wildlife Authority is carrying out a research study with the Dean of Scientific Research at Taif University and a member of the scientific committee of the MOU between the African and Eurasian countries, Professor Mohammed bin Nemal Shabraq, titled “Follow-up of the movement and emigration of hawks and wild birds in the Kingdom”. The study is in line with the Directorate General for Studies and Research Commission plan to monitor and identify the local and global importance of the actions of the species.

He pointed out that the study will be implemented during the next three years after two projects have been selected, including the free Falcon and the Shaheen Falcon. The second is related to two types of prey nested in the Saudi Wildlife Authority reserves and threatened with extinction. The birds mentioned in the International Conventions include: Eagle of the Baroq Bani Bani Fariq, and the Egyptian Eagle in the Farsan Islands Reserve.

In a similar vein, Professor Mohammed Shabraq, commended the royal decree which established the Falcon Club as an important step in unifying the efforts to preserve the Saudi heritage, as well as a practical step towards realizing the Kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030 which calls for sustainability and the benefiting of the country from the income generated by programs that should be taken care of. This can take place through falconry competitions and exhibitions and the sale of falconry supplies, in turn remaining for generations to come as a value of beauty intrinsic to our heritage.

He added that the Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Fund for the Conservation of Falconry carried out programs to launch a number of hunting falcons in its native lands, He appreciated the efforts of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince of Makkah, His Royal Highness Prince Khaled Al Faisal, who established the first falcon center in Abha city while he was Prince of the Assir region.

He also stressed out that the establishment of the Falcon Club at this time under the supervision of His Highness the Crown Prince is very important, especially with the deterioration of the number of falcons worldwide, and in particular wild falcons exclusive to the Kingdom. He pointed to the existence of significant challenges to maintain local wild species which have begun to die out and have in fact made the list of internationally endangered species.

Other species have also entered a phase of extinction and have been included on the lists of a number of international conventions, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is agreed on by the CITES Convention, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1417H on a national and international level.

He ascertained that the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia signed recently by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Raptors MOU) aims to promote internationally coordinated actions to achieve and maintain the favorable conservation status of migratory birds of prey throughout their range in the above mentioned regions and to reverse their decline when and where appropriate. He added that the Falcon Club will contribute in supporting the articles in the international conventions concerning falcons including the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals ratified by the Kingdom in 1411 H in which the Saudi Wildlife Authority is also responsible for its application at the national and international levels.
Discussing wild falcons registered in the Kingdom, Professor Mohammed Shabraq said that according to the modern classification of birds, there are three types: the Falcon cherrug and the Falcon peregrinus. This species has a growing population in the Kingdom known as the Mountain Shahin. Study of genetics suggests the inclusion of hawks in one species with classification of different groups as breeds or under species. The breed that reproduces in the Kingdom namely the mountain shahin) is scientifically known as Fp pelegrinoides.

He highlighted the importance of the Falcon Club to falconers in the Kingdom who has great experience in the sport. “They will be able to be a part of falcon clubs in Europe, some African countries and GCC and support them in properly organizing this ancient sport and protecting both birds and falconry. The clubs will also play an active role in educating the younger generation the deep-rootedness of this historic sport.

“The Falcon Club will play an integral part linking bodies concerned with the implementation of the international Convention on Migratory Species and the documentation of everything related to falconry in the Kingdom”, he pointed out. The club will also provide information to members to ensure that this legacy is conserved and, where utilized, is used wisely in addition to tips on breeding and breeding centers for the endangered falcons

Discussing the subject, WASS spoke with Al-Baraa bin Mohammed Al-Othman a veterinarian at Talad National Veterinary Company, who is completing his doctoral studies on a scientific research titled “Evaluation of Arabian Falcons and Gene Mapping”. The study is in conjunction with the University of Oregon in the United States. He explained that the Falcon Club will pave the way for the breeding and training of falcons and investments by organizing hunts for which many enthusiasts travel outside the Kingdom. He added the country possessed many natural elements to attract the Saudi youth, especially those who love falconry to participate throughout the season.

He pointed out that on one hand, falcon trade is a very lucrative trade and has made huge sums that have drawn the attention of countries to it. This has prompted the establishing of falcon clubs and falcon associations in addition to the endorsing of international conventions governing falcon trade in the world. On the other hand, it would aid in the promotion of the rare Arab falcon species in the world.

This is alongside guidance and international training for falconers in a manner that will contribute to the national falconry tourism industry. He pointed out that in the past year alone, 1114 falcons were sold for over $24m in the GCC alone, namely falcon, limestone, sea and jabili, and in 2014 a sale was made for $761K.

As for his study in the United States, researcher Al-Baraa Othman, who specializes in the treatment of endangered bird species and protection said it specialized in identifying endangered and threatened species from extinction and methods of protection, following the movements of flocks worldwide, studying toxins and diseases that may affect living creatures and human beings. He pointed out that his scientific research is the only one of its kind in the Middle East.
He claimed that the Falcon Club will represent the history and civilization of forefathers who have lived in the diverse civilizations in the Arabian Peninsula.

It will also bring together falconers, unify their efforts and control the hunting process in addition to providing an opportunity to gain knowledge of the health conditions of falcons and monitoring and protecting particular species from extinction including the free falcon best beknown to the Arabs. The club will also provide falconers job opportunities throughout the kingdom in particular where there is a large presence of falcons and by establishing falconry reserves in turn attracting tourists during hunting season.

He stressed that annually, over $1bn was expected to pour into the Kingdom from the falconry industry alone. This would provide job opportunities for citizens in several fields including research, training, treating and breeding of falcons alongside trade and sale of commodities. It is expected that the houbara and wild animals, will also flourish. Other jobs created include tourist guides for falconry enthusiasts who will be given the opportunity to practice their hobby in the Kingdom’s diverse reserves in a safe and secure environment.

During this report, WAAS received a variety of photos of a number of falcons from the Araadi Center for the Conservation and Production of Falcons and from photographer Patrick Bayat from the Prince Saud Al Faisal Center for Wildlife in Taif Governorate.