Transporting Birds by Air?
Hunting is a popular pastime in the Middle East and the falcons used to capture prey are prized assets. The Birds are imported from across the world and the finest specimens can command prices of up to £1 million. The Falcons are shipped in such numbers that the region’s airlines have special arrangements for the birds which are permitted to fly in the passenger cabins.
Wealthy Arabs are incredibly passionate about hunting and travel across the region in search of prey. Some species have been hunted almost into oblivion in certain areas and so enthusiasts are forced to seek out other areas in which to hunt. This has led to several arrests as a result of hunters entering countries illegally. The travellers can also find themselves at the mercy of bandits. In 2015, gunmen kidnapped 27 hunters from Qatar, including members of the ruling family, who were adventuring in the Iraqi dessert.
Falconry has been practised for thousands of years in the Middle East and was an important skill for the Bedouin hunters of the dessert regions. The current popularity of hunting with birds obviously has its origins in the region’s heritage but now has more to do with flaunting one’s wealth. The falcons are basically status symbols.
Falcons on a Plane
Recently, an Arab businessman posted a picture of 80 falcons which were flying to Jeddah on an Airbus. The picture, which had been taken by a pilot, went viral immediately. Videos of the birds have appeared on YouTube and on television. The birds were thought to have been travelling to Jeddah for a hunting trip.
Apparently Falcons are now a common sight in economy cabins. Qatar Airways has a page on their website devoted to Falcon carriage. Etihad Airways’ First Class passengers are allowed to travel with two falcons per seat purchased and economy passengers one bird per seat purchased! Lufthansa have even produced a patented bird stand for use on their planes.
Boom Time for Breeders
Some breeders are earning themselves a fortune by breeding falcons for wealthy Arab clients. These include Bryn Close, a Geordie from a poor background who had been working as a shop fitter. He started breeding falcons 17 years ago and is now making £millions. But, in spite of his new found riches, he still spends half of the year sleeping in a caravan so he can be close to the birds.
Close says that his life has changed dramatically as a result of his breeding programme. When he first travelled to Abu Dhabi he had to sleep on a mattress on the floor of a greenhouse but now he is picked up from the airport in a gold Rolls-Royce and sleeps in the presidential suite at the Emirates Palace Hotel!
If you ever travel to the Middle East, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing the aircraft with a few falcons. They are likely to have a better seat than you!