Arab tradition lives on thanks to Sheikh Zayed: 3rd International Falconry Conference

ABU DHABI: The third International Falconry Conference moved yesterday from the desert camp in Al Gharbia, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, to Al Forsan Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi, along with 800 falconers from 80 countries who are taking part in this year’s Falconry Festival and Conference.

Not only the location, but the topics of discussions have changed, from mostly national accounts of historical facts of falconry to more global matters of falconry, starting with the UNESCO action plans for falconry.

After a moment of silence in tribute to the memory of the late Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, who worked tirelessly to promote Emirati culture and heritage, falconry included, the conference was opened by Majid Al Mansouri, Executive Director of the Emirates Falconers Club, one of the organisers of the festival, alongside the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.

“Falconry is very important to the UAE because it goes to the depths of our culture, even the national emblem carries the image of a falcon,” he said.

“Falconry has been practiced in Arabia for thousands of years, being not only a necessity, but a source of socialisation too. Today it has become a culture.” The Falconry Conference is a representation of that culture and a form of preservation of falconry. It was started by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1976 and then revived in 2011, after falconry was inscribed on UNESCO’s representative list for Intangible Cultural Heritage, a multi national initiative led by the UAE.

“With 800 people from 80 countries, this is the biggest gathering of falconers in the world, and we are planning to hold it every three years,” said Al Mansouri.

During the first day of the Conference, Italy, Pakistan and Kazakhstan announced their intention to join the UAE and the other 13 nations signed up with UNESCO’s falconry cultural heritage list. Other nations expressed concerns that falconry is dieing in their country because hunting is prohibited.

“Hunting is only part of falconry. There is so much more to it, so many traditions tied to it. Ultimately, falconry is a message, a cultural symbol, a way to teach our children about this heritage,” pointed out Dr. Awadh Saleh, Chairman of the UNESCO Action Plans for Falconry.

Children were the first visitors to the International Falconry Festival, which opened on Thursday morning at Al Forsan Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi.

School bus after school bus pulled into the specially arranged public car park, just as the festival’s souk and tents were opening up. Most of them headed to the Family Area, where stories of mighty falcons and hunters were told by Julia Anderson, author of falconry children books.

Nearby, in the Falconry Exhibition Area, Hamad Al Ghanem, expert and breeder of Arabian Saluki dogs, brought a few of his best hounds, ready to tell visitors all about this other formidable hunters.

“Long ago, Saluki used to be hunting partners of falcons. They would chase rabbits, keeping them away from bushes, and the falcon will come and attack from the front,” explained Al Ghanem.

In the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital tent, professional falconer Kludge Brommund was teaching visitors how to handle a falcon, while at the Al Ain Zoo tent workshops were carried out on bird nests making.

Throughout the day, falconers from many nations showed off their birds of prey training techniques in a specially set up arena.

Later in the afternoon, falconers from all 80 participating nations put on their national, traditional dress and marched in an impressive, colourful falconry parade.