Doha, Oct 11 (EFE).- Falconry has been a practice in Qatar for over 5,000 years. Considered an essential part of its culture, falcons hold a special status in the Gulf nation and drive a million-dollar industry that reflects a national fascination with this age-old tradition.
These birds of prey are not only sold for high prices at hunting exhibitions and used in international tournaments and for breeding, they are also raised as family pets in Qatar, the host nation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Rather than calling it a sport, Qataris consider falconry a lifestyle, says Zayed al-Ali, secretary of the al-Gannas Falconry Society, founded in 2008 to promote the art of hunting with falcons.
“We are trying to protect those birds from (being) smuggled, electrocuted, and also poisoned by agriculture,” al-Ali tells Efe.
Training and caring for falcons is the key to forming a unique bond between the trainer and the bird, and increasing their endurance.
Al-Ali says that this bird is powerful and intelligent because it thinks, reacts, and remembers what it has been taught.
Falcons are highly prized for their hunting abilities and beauty, and the rarest ones are always the most sought after on the Qatari market.
A falcon costs between $4,000 and $10,000 on average, but there are exceptions.
At the S’hail, the international hunting and falcon exhibition in Doha, a bird was sold for 911,000 Qatari riyals ($250,000).
The price of a falcon depends on its color, origin, breed and other characteristics it displays. Those that typically fetch more are white ones, for esthetic reasons, the female for its ability to breed and falcons originating from the Mongolian or Iraqi steppes.
Gyrfalcons, lanners and peregrines are the most common species showcased at the exhibition.
“In Qatar, the bigger and whiter, the more expensive it is. They love the color white, and the females are the most expensive because they can breed,” Alberto Relaño, a participant in the Qatari exhibition, tells Efe.
Specialized in selling falcons, falconry products, hunting gadgets, weapons and even vehicles modified for birds, the sixth edition of the fair featured representatives of 180 companies from around the world as falconry’s popularity in the region continues to soar.
From eye-covering hoods to prevent the falcon from becoming stressed in noisy situations, to telemetry tools for birds, flying robotic decoys and chips that measure their speed, distance and positioning via satellite to avoid losing them during training, everything can be found at the fair.
KING OF THE DESERT
The art of hunting with falcons was born out of humble beginnings.
“Nomadic people in the desert lived side by side with those birds in order to catch… and eat, so this was their source of food,” al-Ali explains.
A falcon’s eyesight is as many as eight times sharper than ours, and can reach more than 320 km/h (nearly 200 mph) in the air.
“They are killing machines. If a shark is a killing machine in the sea, this is a killing machine in the sky because they kill only to eat, and not for the sake of it, like wolves,” he adds.
Today, the bird is more linked to sports, competitions and leisure. Sporting events and falcon hunting season starts when the summer heat begins to ease in October, and lasts until about mid-April.
Tourists in Qatar can also learn about this ancient practice with packages that include a trip to the desert and a hunting experience.
The high cost of owning a falcon means that only some can afford it. It is a fairly expensive hobby, which starts with buying the bird, going through training and caring for it.
Souq Waqif, a marketplace in the heart and most popular area of the Qatari capital, is where to find everything related to falcons, including accessory stores, bird stores, and places to take a selfie with the birds.
It is also home to the falcon hospital, which provides premium healthcare services for these birds with its falcon tripods and sofas in the waiting rooms, windows for visits, emergency rooms and even a small museum to learn all about the birds.
The hospital opens from 7 am to 2 pm, sees between 120 and 130 falcons a day on average and usually carries out endoscopy, beak and talon inspections, blood, feces and urine tests, and routine ear and eye checkups for about $70.
In Qatar, there is nothing more revered and admired than a falcon, a bird that has become a national pride. EFE