Saudi Arabia launches falcon conservation program with global ambitions

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Three seconds. Saudi Arabia’s ambitious falcon reintroduction program often hinges on that brief moment in which a falcon is first shown its new home.

Under new protocols being developed within the program, a hawk will be released into its potential habitat under a canopy for the first time. A captive bred falcon may find the Saudi Arabian wilderness mysterious at first. The birds must be introduced to the habitat slowly.

“You uncover the hood for three seconds. Then cover them up again and take them home,” said Hussam Al-Huzaimi, CEO of the Saudi Falcons Club. “Then bring him back three days later and do something else. This way you start to intrigue the bird. He starts to care about what he sees and feels safe.”

Rare falcon for sale in Saudi Arabia
A rare falcon for sale at the 2022 International Saudi Falcons and Hunting Exhibition near Riyadh. Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a series of conservation efforts for the rare raptor.
Saudi Falcon Club/Zenger

The Saudi Arabia Hadad Hawk Reintroduction Program in Saudi Arabia is a partnership of researchers, falconers and volunteers who are developing new and research-based methods to repopulate the Kingdom with raptors, techniques they hope to that one day they may be applied elsewhere around the globe. The program brings together several Saudi institutions as well as international institutions, including aviary experts from Oregon State University.

The migratory nature of birds makes their lives migratory. When a hawk is introduced to Saudi Arabia’s wildlife sanctuaries, there is no guarantee that the bird will stay. Each new site is carefully chosen, and researchers must carefully track down clues such as B. Stained rocks suggesting that the site may have hosted a hawk’s nest at an earlier date. Numerous sites across Saudi Arabia suggest they may support a larger hawk population in the future.

In the program’s first year in 2021, 33 captive-bred female hawks were introduced to areas with pre-existing male hawks. The later matings produced 47 chicks. Another 24 bitches were introduced that year, which was just as successful. So far the breeding program has produced 151 chicks.

International Saudi Falcon and Hunting Exhibition
The International Saudi Falcons and Hunting Exhibition 2022 attracted around 500,000 visitors to a specially designed exhibition facility in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Falcon Club/Zenger

The Hadad program was recognized for its hawk conservation efforts at an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conference in Marseille in 2021, opened by French President Emmanuel Macron. The awards are important to the Hadad program in part because the goal of the Saudi Falcon Club is to fund similar falcon reintroduction efforts around the world.

There are four species of falcons in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: the Barbary falcon and the Lanner falcon, while the saker falcon and the peregrine falcon are transient visitors.

Today it is estimated that around half of all falconers in the world call the Middle East their home. As with any sport, participants are always looking for a competitive advantage. The International Saudi Falcons and Hunting Exhibition 2022 attracted half a million visitors to a purpose-built exhibition hall north of Riyadh. Among them were many local falconers who wanted to improve the skill of their hunting birds.

UFO, a new drone factory solely focused on drones for falconry applications and supported by two Italian falconers and researchers, made a popular presentation during the event.

Falconers at the exhibition in Saudi Arabia
For many falconers, the bond with their birds is a special one.
Saudi Falcon Club/Zenger

“This technology is used to strengthen the hawks and make them more competitive against a non-biological target. It also helps in the rehabilitation of falcons,” said Giovanni Granati, an Italian falconer and developer of the UFO drone factory.

Used as training game, drones can help keep the hawks in training while local populations of wild birds like the Houbara bustard replenish. In fact, both hawks and many of their traditional prey are endangered or threatened species in different parts of the world.

Imam Turki bin Abdullah’s Royal Nature Reserve Development Authority announced in August that it had opened a houbara breeding centre, the latest chapter in the kingdom’s decades-long effort to help the species.

The Saudi Falcon Club enforces strict standards to ensure that the birds on display and for sale are no longer captured in the wild, as traditionally captured falcons have often been released at the end of the season. A starter bird could be had for just a few thousand, while the most expensive can fetch hundreds of thousands at auction. Last year, Gyrfalcon earned a record $500,000 at the exhibition’s auction.

deep roots

A few hours drive from Riyadh, where the Saudi Falcons Club and Exhibition Center is located, are several archeological sites associated with the Neolithic Al Magar Civilization.

Hussam Al-Huzaimi, CEO of the Saudi Falcons Club
Hussam Al-Huzaimi, CEO of the Saudi Falcon Club, is passionate about the need to conserve falcons, their prey and habitat for future generations.
Saudi Falcon Club/Zenger

Al-Huzaimi is quick to point out that evidence of horse and dog domestication can be found among the remains found deep in the desert. Archaeologists working in the desert also found evidence of falconry.

However, you can never really domesticate a bird of prey, he emphasizes.

“You have to form a bond and it can be lost instantly. Even a bird you’ve had for 10 or even 20 years can just leave you like that for some reason,” Al-Huzaimi said with a gentle snort of his fingers.

Falconers need to spend time with their birds daily to build a strong bond to avoid such an eventuality. Every bird is very cautious and when traveling internationally from Saudi Arabia they must have a bird passport to protect themselves from illegal trade. For Al-Huzaimi and the thousands of falconers around the world, the hard work involved in the hobby is well worth it.

“When you have a bird of prey, a live hawk, just sitting on your arm and looking straight at you, the feeling is just incomparable,” Al-Huzaimi said.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News. Saudi Arabia launches falcon conservation program with global ambitions

Rick Schindler

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