x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Falconry is a tangible heritage worth preserving

It is not enough to ensure that falcons survive. A love for falconry must also survive.

Falconry's standing soared higher this week as the sport won a spot on Unesco's "world intangible heritage" list. Falconry began some 4,000 years ago but was recognised as a cultural treasure by UN officials and as a tradition that requires urgent protection.

There is more to this accolade than an acknowledgement of what must be preserved. The Emirates has a special relationship with the sport and a special responsibility to demonstrate its importance to those in the UAE and beyond.

In the UAE, falconry has contributed to insights into the health of falcons, their prey and the ecosystems of which they are a part. The UAE has also begun to share much of what it has learned. In one joint project with Mongolia, the Mongolian Artificial Nest Project, 5,000 artificial nests were built in that country's steppe to increase the breeding of Saker falcons.

The Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Project, run by the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, one of the longest-running migratory tracking programmes on falcons in the Arabian Peninsula, is another example of the country's contribution to the sport and the science behind it. The project's findings over the last decade have contributed to knowledge about migration and breeding patterns for many bird species whose survival is threatened by development encroaching on their habitats.

Institutes such as the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which supports specialised training and research of avian and raptor species, also performs important work to address ongoing medical and environmental challenges.

But it is not enough to ensure that falcons survive. A love for falconry must also survive. In the UAE, programmes and exhibitions that demonstrate the virtues of this ancient sport to both Emiratis and expatriates alike can help to further this effort.