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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

International Festival of Falconry to run during first week of December

The festival will open to the public on December 8 and 9 in Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi

Austrian falconers show off their birds at the International Festival of Falconry in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Sarah Dea / The National
Austrian falconers show off their birds at the International Festival of Falconry in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Sarah Dea / The National

More than 500 falconers from 90 countries are expected to attend the fourth International Festival of Falconry, which runs from December 4 to 9.

This gathering is a tribute to a similar meeting 41 years ago, when the UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed invited falconers from around the world to convene in the desert of Abu Dhabi and build a strategy for the sport’s development.

“What happened at the ’76 festival decided the strategy for 40 years. That 40 years is now up,” said Gary Timbrell, the chief executive of the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey, one of the festival’s organisers. “This festival will bring in the youth to decide the strategy for the next 40 years.”

It’s not just falconers. An estimated 200 conservationists, scientists, vets, academics, and eight falconry schools will attend.

“This festival is considered the largest gathering for falconers in the world, bringing falconers researchers, experts and many local and international institutions that are concerned with the preservation of the heritage of falconry together,” said Majed Al Mansoori, the chief executive of the Emirates Falconers Club, which is organising the event.

In the first four days, falconers will hunt captivity-bred Houbara bustards in Al Ramah desert, between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. Some hunters will be those who attended the original 1976 conference while others will represent countries new to the sport, including falconers from Thailand, Vietnam and one participant from Papua New Guinea.

Saudi Arabians and Kuwaitis will fly their own falcons into the emirate. For those further afield, the Al Ain Zoo will provide falcons.

New York University-Abu Dhabi will hold a private conference on Dec 5 in Al Ain featuring eight lectures by archaeologists, historians, falconers, art historians and experts from Japan, Mongolia, Norway and the UAE.

The festival moves to the city of Abu Dhabi on December 8 and 9, when countries will showcase their falconry traditions at a public exhibition in Khalifa Park.

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In addition to showcasing the past, the festival will look at the future of the sport. One topic likely to be reviewed is saker falcon (Falco cherrug) conservation. The International Union Conservation of Nature classifies the saker as endangered due to electrocution by power lines, poisoning, unsustainable trapping for falconry and loss of habitat.

“This festival has brought the communities together so it’s one community,” said Mr Timbrell. I have more in common with the people here in Abu Dhabi and Uzbekistan, China, than I have in Innishannon, which is the village where I live. It’s just brought everyone together.”