The Art of Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry using a trained hawk. It involves a close and complex partnership between man and a fit, free flying raptor that will allow man an intimate involvement in its life. This is one of the oldest relationships between man and an animal, rivaling that with horses and dogs; the essential difference is that hawks, at least until very recently, have remained wild animals. The skills needed for Falconry have been passed down, over millennia, from father to son or master to apprentice. An appreciation for this transmission of knowledge as well as for the intrinsic cultural value of Falconry has resulted in Falconry being recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage or a “Treasure of Humanity”. The initial submission to UNESCO involved 11 different countries and was the largest submission of this kind yet received by UNESCO. Recognition was obtained in November 2010 and to celebrate this, an International Festival was held in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, in December 2011.
I have been involved in Falconry since a young teenager. While my life has revolved around the practice of medicine and my patients, Falconry has provided a relaxing and absorbing hobby for my free-time. Over the years, I have come to represent South African Falconers at Conservation forums and at the International Association for Falconry. I had the great pleasure and privilege of leading the South African delegation to the Festival. South African Falconers, despite their small numbers are internationally respected for their standard of excellence and this was reflected in the team that was invited to the Festival. This included 2 National Representatives, 4 Conference speakers and a prize-winner in the Art section. So we travelled to Al Ain to join over a thousand other Falconers from some 80 different countries from all over the world. Interestingly, sub-Saharan Africa was represented by South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
The Festival was held in the grounds of the pre-Colonial Jahail Fort which stands in the centre of the University City of Al Ain. The Festival hosted the Annual General Meeting of the International Association for Falconry and the Conservation of Birds of Prey, as well as a 3 day conference dealing with wide ranging topics including Falconry Heritage, Legislation and Raptor Conservation. I had the great pleasure of chairing the Conservation sessions. The Festival itself, involved the erecting of National tents, showcasing national culture and falconry practice as well as a dramatic and colorful “Parade of Nations” where national delegations staged a march-past in National costume and carrying national flags.
It proved to be a stimulating and engrossing week which ended with a return to normality and the daily challenges. Many good relationships and friendships were forged and valuable plans made to further the conservation of raptors and the environment.