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DJEDDAH: A burqa is used on a hawk’s face to cover its eyes because sight is their strongest sense.

The peregrine falcon is the most predatory aerial bird of all falcon subspecies.

Falconry as a traditional sport has taken root in various cultures around the world, the result of worldwide practice for 4000 years. It is a complex and immersive sport, but it is not indigenous to a community, a people or a territory.

In December 2016, and within the framework of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, UNESCO adopted falconry as a living human heritage.

Al-Nadir for Falcons opens its doors to the public for an immersive falconry experience. (A photo by Huda Bashatah)

According to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, social practices, traditional crafts, skills and knowledge shared by communities can enable them to be part of global preservation efforts, as is the case with falcons and falconry as a sport.

This list includes not only Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also Spain, Italy, South Korea, Hungary and more.

Falconry has become an international cultural symbol, and recently Saudi Arabia has made great strides in regulating and preserving the sport’s heritage.

The history of falconry training in the Kingdom has its origins in the Arabian Peninsula, starting from the roots of the Bedouin heritage of falcon hunting.

Al-Nadir for Falcons opens its doors to the public for an immersive falconry experience. (A photo by Huda Bashatah)

In December 2020, the Kingdom took the initiative to release the hawks back into the wild where they belonged, taking huge steps to protect wildlife.

The program was called Hadad and was launched as the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia. It is supported by the Special Forces for Environmental Security and the National Center for the Development of Wildlife.

In 2019, the annual King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival was established as part of the Saudi Falcon Club, creating an international and local arena for falconers to participate in competitions with financial prizes such as Al-Melwah or the Call of the 400m falcon, and the Al-Mazayan hawk beauty pageant.

The third KAFF, held at SFC headquarters in Riyadh, drew international participants and 2,110 hawks.

Al-Nadir for Falcons opens its doors to the public for an immersive falconry experience. (A photo by Huda Bashatah)

While hunting has been banned on the peninsula since 1975, the traditional sport of falconry and even pageantry continues to flourish and is referred to as the “sport of kings” by Sultan bin Towais Al-Qahtani, a businessman and expert in the field of falconry.

Four years ago, Al-Nadir For Falcons opened to the public as a multi-purpose center for auctioning, breeding, training, production and hospital care for falcons.

The center was founded in 2017 by Khalid bin Towais Al-Qahtani, the elder brother of Sultan bin Towais.

“The center started out as a hobby, a traditional pastime so to speak, until we developed it into an integrated project into a comprehensive and reliable care and training center for falcons and falconers. Al-Qahtani said.

Al-Qahtani told Arab News that the center offered educational training services to all levels of falconers, both professional and amateur, and included alternative medicine treatments by experts and falconer specialists in the field.

“As a center, we have participated in several local and international competitions and festivals, such as our attendance at the 89th and 90th National Holidays, and joined Saudi Airlines to film a video clip on the summit. We also participated in the third edition of KAFF, which covered the S’hail Katara International Hunting and Falcon Exhibition in Qatar, and the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Riding Exhibition in the United Arab Emirates. Al-Qahtani said when asked about the centre’s active participation in festivals and falconry activities.

Al-Qahtani won first place in the Riyadh Season Cup Al-Mazayen competition and fourth place in KAFF Al-Mazayen.

But this center is not the only one in the Kingdom to produce and breed falcons.

“There are special centers for local production, and we saw their production this year at the international auction, where they were very successful,” Al-Qahtani said. “The local production also participated in the Al-Melwah competition and achieved records in the Al-Mazayen competition, obtaining the first place in this competition. We are proud of this national achievement, but there is currently no official state center, but many founded by citizen falconers. “

When asked if anyone can acquire a falcon, Al-Qahtani said that it is possible for everyone to acquire this bird.

“It is important to mention that the SFC has provided us with many services to serve this area and in the preservation of this rooted heritage in terms of organizing competitions, facilitating falcon acquisition procedures, annual auctions for the migratory hawks that are offered. locally and internationally for external farms and falconers. There is also an annual exhibition at Malham in Riyadh.

“Hawks are pretty vicious scavengers and birds, but a coexistence can occur between humans and hawks, where a bond can be created and a relationship fostered through special training and proper handling. “

He listed the main types of falcons or subspecies: Gyr, shaheen, basking, gray. The differences between these hawks are their size, shape and color, where each category has its own niche.

“Falconry is the hobby and sport of kings, with historical depth in Saudi culture and a passion for their preservation comes with the rich cultural heritage which has been passed down from generation to generation, prompting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to take care of it, document it, and organize it through its development plans and its ambitious Strategic Vision 2030, with objectives concerned with developing various aspects of scientific, economic, recreational and cultural life.