Sheikh Hamdan works to revive ancient sport of falconry in the UAE
Falconry is an integral part of Emirati cultural heritage, and in recent years it has become somewhat endangered as a sport, as the UAE has been rapidly urbanised, taking up large areas of desert land, which used to be used for hunting. What's more, the houbara bustard, which were typically hunted by falcons, are now endangered and it has become illegal to hunt them.
However, Sheikh Hamdan has been doing his part to encourage the prestigious sport to live on. Together with other members of Emirati royal families, a string of competitions have been established and become very popular among Emiratis, as the sport remains somewhat exclusive. Between December and May each year a packed itinerary of high-profile events and competitions take place, at which young Emiratis can race captive bred falcons and compete for large cash prizes and stand to win other luxury goods such as exclusive cars. The most prestigious event is the President's Falconry Cup, which saw around 1,700 falcons competed for the top prize of AED15m this year.
"The falcon market was on a downwards spiral prior to the racing – breeders all around the world were struggling... But racing has really taken off since Sheikh Hamdan started to develop the sport, and the market's moving again. There's been a rise in interest in falcons in the UAE and it's become an international business opportunity – everybody's trying to get in." Says Zimbabwean falcon breeder for the royal families, Howard Waller, referring in part to the steep rise in the value of falcon's, which has risen in the UK, where some falcons are bred, from £1,500 to around £50,000 on average.
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