Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

Saudi Arabia begins 45-day falcon auction

Auction showcases the kingdom's swiftest and most beautiful raptors before the winter falconry season

Saudi Arabia’s swiftest and most beautiful falcons have been gathered outside the capital for an auction that will last 45 days.

The auction, organised by the Saudi Falcons Club, runs from October 3 to November 15, the beginning of the Gulf falconry season.

Falconry is a multimillion-dollar business in the region, with top raptors sweeping up prizes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in regional tournaments during winter.

A potential prize-winning falcon can fetch Dh1 million ($272,300) and auctions, a popular way to sell race camels or falcons, have taken flight as a way for breeders to show their brood and for bidders to show their wealth.

“Each will pay what it is worth to him,” said Mohammed Ghazi, a falconer from Abu Dhabi. “But generally, a falcon is around Dh100,000. That’s an average falcon. If its blood is strong and it has speed, it’s more expensive.”

In our history, everybody had a falcon ... a falcon was the same as a pet dog in Europe

Mohammed Ghazi

Organisers of the Saudi Falcons Club festival sought entry from falconers across kingdom, with falcons flown in to the site at Malham, about 70 kilometres north of Riyadh.

Last year’s King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival had 2,350 falconers vie for about $5.6m in prizes.

In addition to hunting and races, falcons are entered into beauty competitions, where they earn scores out of 100 for their shape, size and stature.

“For beauty competitions, we look at the length, the weight, the way it stands,” said Mr Ghazi. “After that, we look at its beauty. Does he have a good stance?”

Individual prizes at beauty competitions reach up to $27,000 but are comparatively small to those at racing events or the profits made through trade.

But demand has fuelled the illegal bird trade in the Middle East, with 2.7 million birds illegally killed or taken in Saudi Arabia annually.

State-supported auctions and tournaments could pressure falconers into sustainable practices by requiring proof of origin.

Despite an interruption to summer falconry hunts because of the coronavirus pandemic, falconry competitions in the Gulf are scheduled to go ahead this winter.

Such gatherings, such as Al Dhafra Festival in Abu Dhabi, typically attract thousands of participants from across the Gulf who come to claim hefty prizes, build their flocks or herds and cultivate social contacts.

“In our history, everybody had a falcon,” said Mr Ghazi. “A falcon was the same as a pet dog in Europe.

"A falcon meant safety because a falcon brings food. Who didn’t have a gun to hunt, had a falcon to catch food in the desert.”

Updated: October 4, 2020 04:26 PM

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