Page 103 - Simply Abu Dhabi Magazine II

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Abu Dhabi is a fascinating place steeped in
history and traditions. Amongst the culture
and many customs is a great love for falconry.
Falconry developed with the emergence of
civilizations and was already popular in the
Middle East and Arabian Gulf region several
millennia BC. Since pre-Islamic times, Arabia
has had a proud history of flying hawks such
as peregrines, lanners and sakers. Originally
used by the Bedouins for hunting small game,
historically falconry was a sport regarded as a
status symbol among the nobles of medieval
Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. As
such, it was largely restricted to these noble
classes due to requirements of time, money, and
space to practice the sport. In many aspects of
culture falconry remained a status symbol long
after it was no longer widely practiced, hence its
popularity amongst the affluent classes in Abu
Dhabi today. A popular sport among the ruling
class, you’ll often see these birds being carried
into Etihad Diamond First Class cabins at the
height of the hunting season. Now deemed a
national sport by the king himself, falconry –
the use of trained birds of prey to catch game
– holds great fascination as a pastime amongst
the wealthy Emirati. A huge part of the Arab
culture, this passion for falconry has seen the
construction of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Research
Hospital, a specialised clinic treating up to 4000
birds of prey each year.
Arabian heritage
One of nature’s most remarkable birds of prey, the falcon
has always had a significant role in the history and culture
of the Middle East and remains a prominent part of
today’s Arab heritage. Everywhere you look there are
reminders of Abu Dhabi’s passion for all things falcon
– statues, the government logo, banknotes, the crests on
the entrances to palaces and government ministries. Even
the Abu Dhabi Golf Club Clubhouse is designed in the
shape of a falcon! When you visit Abu Dhabi you can’t
fail to notice the deep rooted interest in falconry and you
can even take a tour of the world’s largest falcon hospital
and gain an insight into this incredible sport. Guided
tours include a visit to the Falcon Museum, a falcon show
and lunch in a Khaima, a traditional Arabian tent. The
tour concludes outside the hospital with the opportunity
to watch the falcons in a large free flight aviary, take
photographs of these magnificent birds of prey and even
pose for a photograph with a falcon perched on your arm.
The Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi also holds occasional
falconry demonstrations.
A commitment to conservation
Falconry is very dependent on geophysical features of
the landscape which is why Abu Dhabi provides the
perfect setting. The UAE is believed to spend over 27
million dollars each year towards the protection and
conservation of wild falcons. To give some idea of the
extent of the enthusiasm for falconry in Abu Dhabi, you
only have to look at the annual falcon beauty contents
and demonstrations that take place at the ADIHEX
exhibition. In fact, the UAE prides itself to be the first
country that only accepts hybrid falcons in its contest,
in a bid to protect wild birds. Although falconry is now
a popular leisure pursuit in Abu Dhabi, it represents so
much more – an indication of the UAE’s strong values,
it has been practiced in the Arabian Gulf for over 4000
years and there is a strong desire and commitment to
preserve all elements of this traditional culture. Since
the independence of the UAE in 1971, its growth has
been rapid and as Abu Dhabi’s economy continues to
go from strength to strength with plans to diversify,
falconry is becoming under increased risk from such rapid
urbanisation. Falcons rely and their prey rely on natural
habitats and wilderness and with less suitable environment
available and with those traditionally associated with
the sport finding less time and opportunity to pursue
it, so this traditional element of the Emirati culture is at
risk of erosion. Both the Environmental Research and
Wildlife Development agency of Abu Dhabi and Falcon
Foundation International Pakistan have shown great
devotion to the conservation of falcons. Participation
in falconry promotes interest in wider conservation
activities, so in a quest to protect the ancient tradition,
the Emirates Falconers’ Club are heavily involved in many
conservation initiatives.
International recognition
In February of this year, the European Union celebrated
the UAE’s successful registration of falconry as a
living human heritage on the Representative List of
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at UNESCO.
The UAE was represented by the Emirates Falconers
Club and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and
Heritage (ADACH) and the Advisor for International
Cooperation at ADACH, Dr. Awad Ali Saleh, led
the talks on the importance of international cultural
cooperation as they prepared to submit the international
falconry file. Other speakers from the European
Parliament, European and international falconry
associations and participating countries acknowledged
the important role played by the UAE and the efforts it
made regarding the falconry file. Shiekh Mohammed bin
Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, was also
thanked for the support he has shown to the preservation
of the heritage of falconry on the international stage.
Falconry is a modern sport which continues to thrive in
Abu Dhabi. Falconers’ knowledge and techniques have
proved to be instrumental in the successful rehabilitation
of injured or otherwise helpless wild birds. Falconers,
princes and sheikhs are brought together by this powerful
Middle Eastern tradition and visitors to Abu Dhabi can’t
fail to notice the impact this incredible custom has on the
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