By Maryam Raafat
Egypt's South Western desert has many rare wild birds that migrate from Asia and Europe to the African continent and this attracts falcon hunters from everywhere."The season of falcon hunting starts at the begining of October and ends by the first of December. At this time every year hunter groups go into the desert, taking with them all their needs in water and food for two months of camping in the desert. They also take a great many pigeons with them. They are the best bait for falcons," said Abou Bakr Haroun, one of the falcon hunters in Siwa Oasis.
After arriving, each group – comprising three or four hunters – takes up a special place in the desert exclusively for themselves. They camp and then start to observe the falcons."Some hunters prefer to hunt from the peak of a mountain where falcons live, but those hunters come to the desert a month earlier before the season starts," Haroun said in an interview with the Egyptian Mail.
The expedition to the desert costs around $2,000 in car fuel, food, water and dozens of pigeons for bait. The hunters need to exercise great patience in catching falcons if they are to remunerate themselves for what they have spent on the trip.
"The falcon is very precious to the hunter. It is his treasure. So, there are rules to be followed during hunting so that the falcon doesn’t get injured. If that should happen, it would make his price slip," Haroun said.
"You need to cover the falcon's eyes when you catch one so that it doesn’t feel hunted. You must deal with it gently so none of its feathers falls off or gets damaged," he explained.
A buyer will make a minute examination of a falcon before he buys one. For a falcon must meet certain specifications according to which its price is set.
"A falcon can fetch more than LE300,000. This is the price of the Chahine falcon. They are the most expensive kind and the hunter who catches a Chahine falcon is a lucky person. Falcons are measured by the centimetre. There are those of 14.5cm, 15cm and 16cm. The bigger ones are the best," Haroun said.
Bird traders exploit the hunters' fondness for their hunting hobby. Middlemen control the buying and selling of falcons. They buy for much less than what they sell for. The traders pay between LE100,000 and LE500,000 according to the quality of each falcon.
The middlemen – from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Emirates and Bahrain – then gather in the Gulf countries where there are wild bird auctions. Sometimes the Chahine falcon can fetch LE1 million at an auction.
Those who are fond of falcon hunting train their falcons and hold competitions among their falcons. The best ones can bring up pearls from the sea and this ability creates an even larger business.
Moustafa Kanaria, another falcon hunter in Siwa Oasis, spoke of the need for educational courses about the types of falcons and how to deal with them and how to know whether they are in good health or not.
Falcon hunting is an inherited occupation, passed down from father to son and the hunters gain further knowledge through experience."Hunting falcons is not easy work. The hunters face many risks in the desert. There are dangerous snakes and other dangerous creatures hidden in the sands. They need permission from the Egyptian Army for their expeditions. And they are restricted by the Ministry of Environment's rules. These criminalise the hunting of certain kinds of falcon, like the Gornas falcon as this kind is there to reproduce," Kanaria said.