Kazakhstan: Falcons Coming Home to Roost
Falcon populations in Kazakhstan are about to get a welcome boost. A rescue center in the United Arab Emirates is preparing to introduce 66 falcons back into their natural habitat in the Central Asian nation, where the birds of prey have traditionally been used for hunting. The to-be-released raptors are wild birds that had been injured and handed over to the Falcon Hospital Abu Dhabi (FHAD) within the past year. The rescues are a boon to endangered species such as the Saker falcon, whose numbers have dwindled in recent years as a result of illegal poaching and habitat destruction.The UAE shares a common avian hunting heritage with the Central Asian countries. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the trade in illegally procured birds has flourished in the Gulf states, with poachers smuggling young birds out of Central Asia. To counter this underground trade, in 1995 Emirati authorities introduced falcon passports and three-year licenses that allow hunters from the UAE to move their falcons across international borders and home again.The passports seem to be working: “Definitely, the numbers of confiscated wild falcons are going down year after year,” FHAD head Dr Margit Muller told Abu Dhabi's Khaleej Times. The repatriation of these endangered falcons and the tighter controls on their trade should go some way to helping ensure the sport's long-term future.This year's crop of released falcons is made up of birds confiscated on the UAE's borders, wounded birds from earlier releases and falcons rescued from other countries in the region. Since the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release program was started some 17 years ago, around 1,400 falcons have been reintroduced on the birds’ migration routes in Pakistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.