x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Falconry festival returns 35 years on from Zayed's inaugural event

Preparations are well under way for the Second International Festival of Falconry, which will begin next week in Al Ain.

Preparations are well under way for the Second International Festival of Falconry, which will begin next week in Al Ain.

The festival, due to be attended by more than 700 delegates from more than 75 countries, is expected to be the biggest of its kind worldwide.

It follows the First International Festival and Conference of Falconry, organised 35 years ago by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President of the UAE and a keen falconer. This year's event will be held at various venues across Al Ain, including Al Jahili Fort.

The week-long event will include workshops for adults and children, camel and saluki racing, and a photography competition.

In addition, a three-day camp will start on Sunday for falconers and their birds to hunt in a traditional manner, on camel, horse and foot.

Dr Nick Fox, the technical supervisor of the festival, said visitors would discover that there was much more to falconry than met the eye.

"I thought heritage was about history," he said. "Actually, it is about the future. How do we pass on things to the next generation? When we look at falconry, we're not just looking at a bird, we're looking at the culture."

He said younger generations needed to learn about the pursuit, from the poetry written about it to how falconry equipment is made.

Last year, falconry was recognised by Unesco, the United Nations cultural agency, as intangible cultural heritage.

Its inclusion on a Unesco list of such heritage reflected the growing interest in the pursuit, said Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which organised the festival alongside the Emirates Falconers Club.

The camp, said Dr Fox, would support falconry's place on Unesco's list. "We will have achieved what we promised Unesco in our action plan to bring back sustainable hunting. This can be a model for the future.

"We can establish more areas in the country which can be managed long-term for sustainable hunting, which will benefit our young people."

The festival also aims to promote falconry worldwide, as well as to increase ties to the international community, said Abdullah Al Qubaisi, the festival's director. "The camp is an opportunity for making acquaintances and exchanging experiences between Emirati and international falconers," he said.

There are thought to be 5,000 falconers living in the UAE.

zalhassani@thenational.ae