x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Salukis set early pace at falcon festival in Al Ain

Saluki and camel races marked the first day of the Second International Festival of Falconry in Al Ain.

Stepping out: Saluki racing at the Second International Festival of Falconry in Al Ain. Courtesy Adach
Stepping out: Saluki racing at the Second International Festival of Falconry in Al Ain. Courtesy Adach

Teased with a graceful Arabian gazelle near the starting line, a row of Arabian Salukis grows excited, eager to chase after it.

Then the whistle blows to start an event rarely seen these days -a traditional Arabian greyhound race.

But before the dogs are set loose, the live bait is switched with a mummified dummy.

"After they get excited, the real Reem Gazelle is hidden away, and we release the dummy, artificial Reem Gazelle, which the Salukis chase around the racing arena," explained Obeid Al Mazrouie, who is overseeing the races at the Second International Festival of Falconry in Al Ain.

"The Salukis are magnificent runners, known for their exceptional stamina, so there will be fantastic races," he said.

The festival, which began yesterday and continues until Saturday, is organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, in cooperation with the Emirates Falconry Club.

The Saluki races continue today.

Yesterday's opening day also featured a camel race.

The Salukis - one of the world's oldest breed of dogs at almost 13,000 years old - were not the only animals fooled by an artificial instigator: the camels were urged on by robot jockeys on their backs.

And the country's first official falcon race is to begin today.

"There will be no blood or victims in any of the races," Mr Al Mazrouie said. In accordance with the law that prohibits hunting, primarily artificial baits will be used.

"For instance in the falcon race, the winning falcon will be the fastest to fly over the 400 metres open desert area to reach the bait, an object covered with feathers from the Houbara bird," he said.

The animals and birds will race for prizes for their owners - mainly new cars and cash, with an overall prize fund of about Dh1 million.

The focus of expert sessions will be on falcons from Thursday to Saturday at the Al Ain Rotana. Additionally, the celebrations will highlight the importance of Salukis in Emirati heritage.

"Hunting with Salukis has a long tradition in the Arabian Peninsula," said Hamad Al Ghanem, the breeder, registrar general and consultant of Saluki of Arabia, an association of Saluki owners.

rghazal@thenational.ae