Falcons have been used as a hunting weapon by the Bedouins in Abu Dhabi’s Liwa desert region for centuries. Taking falcons out into the desert on hunting expeditions lasting several days was how rulers kept in touch with tribes at one time. Although they are not used for practical purposes anymore, falconry is now a popular sport in the Liwa desert although using them to hunt wildlife is restricted. Sporting birds are taken out into the desert each day as they have to be flown and trained daily. The main species of falcon being used for sport are the saker and the peregrine. One of popular luxury hotels Abu Dhabi, Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara offers a selection of desert based leisure activities that include falconry.
The bird’s eyes are covered with a hood during the acclimatization process to keep it calm. Out in the desert when the hoods are removed the birds soar up into the air reveling in the wide open spaces. A GPS transmitter attached to their tail feathers keep track of movements. The falcons are capable of flying at 200 miles an hour and are efficient hunters in open terrain. Training comprises of the bird’s handler whirling a feathered, baited lure until the falcon dives for it. When the bird catches the lure it receives a reward. Later the falcon is trained to dive on a live prey. This time the handler lures it away before it can get its talons into the prey, getting the bird used to not killing the prey immediately. When the sun goes down over the desert, it is time for the falcons to go back to their roost. At the end of the sporting season some falconers release the birds into the wild after embedding a micro chip for identification. The capturing and training of falcons need patience, skill and even bravery as they are dangerous raptors. They have to be trained for months before they can be used for sport.
Jayani Senanayake is a writer who dabbles in travel and all things exotic. Under the pseudonym of Caliope Sage, she writes of the allures that must simply be discovered.