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Falcons in danger

By Mohammad Niaz

The materialistic approach to resource utilisation often proves harmful. Similarly, our natural resources are being exploited in such a way that they are fast disappearing into nothingness. No different is the case with some falcons in our part of the world.

The saker falcon, which is an endangered animal according to the IUCN red list, is a bird of prey that inhabits steppes, sub-desert and open terrain of East Europe, Central Asia, Russia, China and Mongolia. For centuries falcons have been used in falconry. It is an art of hunting wild prey with trained falcons and hawks. It is practised in the Middle East and Asia.

Falcons are trapped in the autumn and are used for hunting in the winter after receiving a special kind of training. In search of better hunting prospects, falconers in the Middle East often come to Pakistan or Iran in the hunting season.

Certain wild falcons are exposed to illegal trade at the hands of those who try and fetch high prices for them. According to an estimate of the Birdlife International, of these the majority (77 per cent) is believed to be juvenile female falcons, followed by 19 per cent adult females, three per cent juvenile males and one per cent adult males.

The saker (falco cherrug) and the peregrine (falco peregrinus) are the two main species used for hunting and traditional falconry. The saker is popular because it is good for desert hawking. Comparatively, the female, being brave, larger and more powerful than the male, performs well during hunting.

Sakers are trapped illegally in the autumn, the time the birds’ young ones leave their nests, and migration starts. People having links with traders travel through various routes to reach the Middle East and trap these birds. During the transit process they hide these birds in garments or vessels or other such things because of which many birds die. To have a majestic trophy of the royal birds the unsold ones are sometimes killed for the purpose of stuffing/taxidermy. Most of these birds come from Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Afghanistan, Kirghizstan and Pakistan.

According to a conservative estimate, about 9,000 falcons are used for falconry with an estimated 3,000 trapped wild saker and peregrine falcons. Due to the illegal trade, the saker falcon is facing a perilous situation and is fighting a grim battle for its survival.

Recently, there has been great decline in falcons’ number. According to some estimates, in the past 15 years there has been 53-75 per cent decline in their wild population. Consequently, certain falcons are increasingly becoming rare. These include saker falcon (falco cherrug), peregrine falcon (falco perigrinus) and gyr falcon (falco rusticolus) which are largely used in falconry. These species are listed in the CITES Appendix I or II in which commercial trade is either not allowed or allowed only with CITES permit.

The CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. It is, in fact, an international/inter-governmental agreement, which aims to ensure that any international trade in wild animals and plants species does not threaten their survival. Although the saker is listed as ‘endangered’ in many countries, it is traded both legally and illegally. The saker is on Appendix II of the CITES which allows for a legal international trade, regulated by signatory countries. All listed species are classified into three appendices according to the threat factors. Appendix I species are the most endangered. Gyrfalcon (falco rusticolus) and the peregrine (falco peregrinus) are on this list. The saker is listed in Appendix II — species that are not currently threatened with extinction but may become so due to unchecked trade.

To avoid any irregularity falcon registration with the authorities is a must. It requires information about the owner and his bird including sex, breed, country of origin, captive bred or wild and requires CITES documents for any legal transit. The falcon is then issued a passport and government ring. A microchip (passive induced transponder — PIT) carrying an identification number is also implanted in each bird.

On account of over trapping besides other threatening factors, important species of falcons are in danger of extinction. However, in Pakistan, in light of the present grim scenario of falcon trade, the CITES has imposed a ban on trapping, importing and exporting of falcons.

Conservation of the wild population of these noble and majestic birds is badly needed. Today, conservation of the saker falcon is an urgent ecological issue that demands immediate attention of the authorities concerned. There is a need to take more stringent measures to protect these birds, especially the endangered saker falcon.




  • The Dawn Newspaper Group (www.dawn.com)

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Updated February 25th, 2007