Man has been hunting for birds and animals form the time immemorial. With the passage of time he has devised different methods and techniques. For that he has also been using different birds and animals as bait and hunters as well. Birds belong to Falco species like falcon has always been a favourite bird being used for it. A falcon is a captivating bird of prey, which has an exceptional power of vision, visual acuity and is also capable of flying at high speed and changing direction rapidly. According to a report, a Peregrine falcon has been recorded diving at speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), making him the fastest-moving creatures on Earth. With the passage of time some of Falco species have been used as decoy birds and faced threats of extinction. In the recent years, 16th November is being celebrated as World Falconry Day in order to mark the importance of these birds and to spread awareness about them. International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey is playing a pivotal role in it. This organisation is dedicated to the preservation of not only those birds which are facing the threat of extinction but also the ancient art of falconry . The day was also observed in Pakistan but unfortunately not a single programme was organised to impart any useful information to the people. In fact there is not a single organisation which is working effectively.

The tradition of falconry hunting in the Sub-continent is as old as anywhere in the world especially in the Arab World. There are still a large number of people who are keen about these birds and Mr. Kamaran Abid, who is pharmacist by profession, is one of those people who love these birds. He has established Hawking Club of the Punjab with the help of some friends with objectives to organise events for spreading awareness about falcons. According to him his organisation will also work for the conservation these birds while taking in loop to the Wild Life Department and the veterinary doctors. Talking exclusively to Sunday Plus he shared many details how these birds are caught, captivated and trained. He also revealed many facts about their illegal trade in the international market.

Explaining about the different species of falcons he said, “There are many species of falcons, some of them are local and some are migratory. Migratory birds mostly come from Siberia and Central Asian States and stay near river beds or dams from where they could hunt ducks or other birds easily. Some species like Peregrine falcon have almost fifty types in the world which are mostly categorised because of their colours.

“In our country Red Naped Shaheen and Black Shaheen are local breeds but unfortunately they are in severe danger because its male and female birds are used as decoy hawk to catch Saker and Peregrine falcons. Then there is Luggar falcon which looks like Saker falcon but it is small in size and is facing the same fate. Similarly Redhead Berlin, Kestrel falcon and Hobby falcon are also found in Pakistan but they are small in sizes,” he said.

Talking about endangered species he revealed that Peregrine falcon once faced the threat of extinction because of pesticides which are used in agriculture. “In 1970 this specie was included in the list of birds which are near extinction. Its rehabilitation programme started and artificial nest breeding started in different parts of the world. In 1990 it was excluded from that list. These days Saker Falcon is facing the same threat and its breeding programmes are going on in the whole world especially in Magnolia, Russia and Central Asian States,” he said. When inquired about the ban imposed on the trade of falcons, he elaborated that even though its hunting is banned internationally but still people hunt them. “Our Wild Life Department is very active and game watchers keep a vigilant eye on hunters. But there is a mafia who smuggles these birds which are sold on various prices. Species, colours and measurement determine their price which range from few thousands to hundreds thousands. For example, the male of Peregrine falcon is small in size and is generally sold in ten to fifteen thousands, whereas its female costs far more. The immature birds are more costly than the mature birds because they are easy to be trained,” he continued. Those people who are involved in the illegal trade or hunting of these banned birds are fined Rs. 5000 and maximum two years imprisonment. There are some hawks whose licence can be obtained like of sparrow hawk (locally called Shikra).

He also explained in detail about the training process of these falcons. Arab people keep special man for their bird who train and also look after them. Locally we call these trainers ‘Baazdar’. There is a long process of training. Normally it requires one and a half month preparing a bird for hunting. The very first thing is to familiarise these falcons with their trainers for which some birds take little time but some take long. It depends on the mood and the specie of the bird. While giving them training the first process is called ‘manning’. In this process a bird has to recognise his master whose first objective is to bring him out of stress which he feels after being trapped. In this process food plays very important role because birds are trained in their appetite. During training normally falcons are fed twice a day. First feed is given in the morning, which is breakfast and locally it is called ‘chakkhi’, and the evening meal is called ‘tamma’ in our local language. The bird is also called with some name or some specific sound to call him. When a bird starts coming on the hand of the trainer and starting obeying his master then he is trained for hunting on a lure which is made of different birds’ feather. Locally it is called ‘dalba’. This prepares the falcons for hunting. It is pertinent to mention that once a bird is fully trained, he is not left unattended for long time.

Arabs are very fond of falcons and they pay heavy price for these birds. Any bird that is in size of 18 by 18 (inches) may cost one to two millions. This measurement is taken from chest in round and from shoulder to tail. The other things which are considered are big and strong talons, the size of heads and eyes, wide nostrils and big beak.

“Falcons also eat small feathers when they eat their prey. But the next day they spit those feathers out in shape of a pallet. This pallet tells the health condition of these birds to their masters. If the pallet is completely dry and has no foul smell in it, that means the bird is healthy. But if it is sticky or has any foul smell that means he is suffering from any problem in digestion system,” Mr Abid said.

Revealing some facts about smugglers and their network Mr Kamran said that these birds are smuggled to other countries. There is a very wide network consists of different dealers which operate mainly from Karachi and Peshawar. The dealers of Peshawar buy Saker falcons from Afghanistan and the hunters of Punjab take their birds to Karachi in order to sell them. From there these birds are smuggled to other countries especially in the Arab World.

Hunting season in Pakistan starts from September when the migration of these birds starts and continues till December. People hunting these birds are attached to this profession since ages. Earlier these birds were sold to kings and rulers and now these birds are mostly sold to Arabs. When the hunting season starts, trappers sit at their specific places in rivers. There are many techniques of hunting these falcons but the most common technique is known as ‘kulli ka shikar’. The hunting is ban these days but Mr Abid was of the view that the government should allow hunters to catch those species which are not endangered. The Wild Life Department used to do it earlier by issuing license to hunters.

Falcons are really very beautiful birds whose different species are protected all over the world. Even though there are some private organizations working for these birds but the Government should take some initiatives in this regard.