Doha: The heritage of falconry is dear to the people of Qatar even though the Arab country is on the fast lane of development. The citizens' passion for Qatar's culture and tradition makes the country different from other nations. The expatriate community has also shown keen interest to delve deep into the practice of falconry to get a grip of the extraordinary chemistry between the falcons and humans. Though falcons are shy birds, there are many people who are emotionally connected with these raptors. The naturally aggressive falcons are trained to be docile and used for hunting purposes. Various associations also announce special programmes to release the falcons in the wild.
Centuries-old history of falconry
The traditional Bedouin Arab tribes first used falcons as a tool for hunting in Qatar, and later, falconry became steeped in competition, hunting and heritage. The falcons come in various shapes and sizes and usually the shaheen (peregrine) falcons are used for hunting. Currently, close to 3,000 falcon owners are there in this Arab country.
Know the perfect falcon
The falcons, which have a life span of 20 years, have amazing eye-sight and swift movements to hunt down a prey. One should be an expert to spot the right falcon with perfectly-shaped beak, head, wings and sharpness of vision.
The riveting falcon hunting competitions had been held at Al Gannas, which comes under the Katara heritage center, since 2008. Besides hunting equipment and training facilities, Al Gannas also provides space for falcon-related research and studies.
The International Festival of Falcon and Hunting at Sabkhat Marmi in Sealine area in Qatar is a major event that has caught the attention of the world. The other related competitions and exhibitions include Qatar Falconry Festival and the Katara Hunting and Falcons Exhibition (S’hail).
The falcon souq, which is adjacent to the Souq Waqif, is a favourite spot for travellers from across the globe, and here one can find outlets selling falcons and hunting equipment, among others. The price of a falcon ranges between 15,000 and one lakh riyals. A shaheen breed falcon was sold for two lakh riyal during the S’hail exhibition last year, and there will be great demand for falcons during the hunting season. It is a costly affair not only to buy falcons but also to keep these birds. Food, hunting materials and medical care can be expensive for a falconer.
Exercise and vitamin diet for falcons
The falcons are put in a cage that gives physical and mental ebullience to them. One should take the requisite licence to keep a falcon. These birds have a strict regimen involving regular exercise, training and mineral and vitamin-supplemented diet. Many falconers take the falcons for an outing too. The head of a falcon is always covered in a hood, except during hunting time. The handmade hood, known as ‘burqa’, looks like a helmet and is worn to make the raptor calm. The price of ‘burqas’, which comes in various designs, starts from 25 riyals. The hunting season is from October to February and the birds will be fitted with GPS to track their movement while on hunting expeditions. The falcons holding passports can also be taken for air travel.
World-famous S’hail exhibition
During earlier times, the falcons were only used for hunting purposes in the deserts. But now Qatarites who are proud of their heritage have made these raptors part of their lives.
Abdulaziz al-Sayid, S’hail-2020 secretary and exhibition manager, said that competitions and exhibitions were being held to preserve the falconry culture and support the falconers. Many falcon-related associations are active to give a boost to the new generation. The events such as the S’hail show provide the perfect platform for falconers and industrial sector.
The falcon markets across the world have taken notice of the S’hail exhibition. Nearly 140 companies from 13 countries are participating in this edition which is from October 20 to 24. The event is being conducted following the COVID-19 protocols, and the entry to the exhibition is through online registration in a bid to avoid crowding. The auction of falcons is also done online.