DUBAI // The health and even lives of falcons are being placed at risk by some traditional practices passed down through the generations, a leading veterinarian says.
One such practice is feeding falcons domestic pigeons, which can carry a range of lethal diseases. Falcons can become infected by eating the meat or simply from being close to the pigeons.
“Several diseases are transmitted by deeply rooted traditional falconry practices in the Middle East, such as the use of pigeons to feed or train falcons,” said Dr Jaime Samour, the director of Wildlife Division, a private reserve in Wrsan, Abu Dhabi.
“This is something that is avoided elsewhere but here is very popular. Anywhere else in the world people use quails, day-old chicks, mice and rabbits, and this is not something common here.
“The pigeon is a very important element in the diet here, and also for training.
“A high percentage of the diseases that you find in falcons in this part of the world are a result of direct transmission from pigeons. You are buying a falcon for Dh100,000 and feeding it on a Dh10 sick pigeon – it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Dr Samour plans to highlight this issue today when he addresses a veterinary forum in Dubai.
“We as professionals tend to concentrate much more on treating than prevention,” he said.
“I personally think there is a very important responsibility to promote a sort of understanding between falconers and professionals on the best way of treating the birds.
“These traditions are passed from generation to generation, and it is very difficult to persuade someone unless you can demonstrate that they are hurting the animals and that changing practices can be beneficial.”
Another problem is the lack of proper weight management, as some falconers believe that the birds will perform better if they weigh less.
“People tend to drop the weight, sometimes so badly that the falcon is completely emaciated,” said Dr Samour.
“Weight management is an important falconry practice. You have to feed the falcon enough to keep it fit and well, without going to a low level where it is going to get sick.”
The final harmful practice he highlighted involved administering ammonium chloride, which is toxic.
“Falconers here tend to think that the falcon has a layer of fat in the stomach, so they give them this substance to make the falcon lose this fat,” Dr Samour said.
He will deliver a presentation on the types of disease that can affect falcons at different times of the year, as one of the speakers at the Veterinary Outlook Forum, a one-day conference that is being held alongside the VET Middle East trade show.