Falconry and Conservation
a brief overview of falconers’ involvement in conservation worldwide
There is much historical evidence of falconers’ involvement in bird of prey conservation. De arte venandi cum Avibus, one of the first ornithological treaties was a part of a falconry manuscript. Ornithology at its beginnings was very close to falconry. Frederick II von Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of Sicily and Jerusalem, was building bridges between East and West; in his court there were Muslims and Christians. He ordered a translation of an Arabic manuscript on falconry, then much enriched it himself to give the first scientific treatise on birds, testing theories by experiment.
Queen Eleanor D'Arborea. Carta de Logu. Art. N. 87 - De astores. We order that no one can take a goshawk or a falcon from its nest, he who will must give it to the Governor or pay 5 liras.
In medieval Europe many laws to protect falcons were established. Falco eleonorae was named after Eleanor d’Arborea, queen of Sicily, who was so protective of falcons. In central Europe the laws called falcatio protected nests and trees with nests of falcons. Local communities were obliged to protect them, with a high price to pay if they failed. Many other countries had similar laws protecting falcon nests at that time.
Falconers were forerunners of ornithology also in the aspect of ringing. Regular ringing by ornithologists started at the end of 19th century, but early in the 19th century the Loo Hawking Club in Holland used to release herons its falcons captured, attaching metal rings inscribing the date and place of capture. Recaptures in subsequent years were reported and recorded.
Herons that they caught were released with engraved silver bands. Information on recaptures was recorded
The Peregrine crisis story began in 1940s when widespread DDT use began. In the 1950-60s the populations started declining and in 1964 the Hickey book showed decline all over the world and DDT was named as the main issue. In 1970’s DDT was banned all over the world. In 1984 the Cade book showed some stability and local improvement and in 1980-1990s the numerous reintroduction projects were finished in North America and Germany, other countries.
In 2009 the book by Sielicki and Mizera shows the definite improvement in all world populations except the tree-nesting population in Central Europe
The Peregrine Fund is an organization run by falconers and created in the days of the Peregrine crisis. It is still very active on global level in many projects. The California condor was extinct in the wild, but is now being released. The falconers and falconer-scientists of the P-fund monitor the population and threats like lead poisoning.
They have studied, released and monitored the aplomado falcon in Central America. Many species are bred in captive breeding facilities and systematically released to restore wild populations, including the aplomado falcon, bald eagle, bat falcon, California condor, harpy eagle, Madagascar fish eagle, Mauritius kestrel, orange-breasted falcon, prairie falcon.
The Peregrine Fund funded studies which revealed the role of diclofenac in the Asian vultures crisis.
Peregrine Fund Annual Report. From left: California Condor, Ridgway'sHawk, Aplomado Falcon and Orange-Breasted Falcon.
Tree-nesting Peregrine: the German falconry club, DFO and the Polish Falcon Society are working with the last still endangered Peregrine population in Europe – the tree nesting one. The principle of imprinting on place of birth is used. Chicks are released by hacking from cages in trees, in 2012 the first tree-nest known in Poland for generations was found an peregrine chicks from trees were ringed first time after 48 years!
The South African Falconers’ Association– has been involved in many conservation projects, taita breeding and studies, to solve the problem of more intensive propagation in captivity; lanner populations monitoring project; vulture studies, especially to recognize threats to them from traditional medicine. There is also a mitigation project with local farmers, pigeon keepers to avoid conflicts between raptors and people.
Falconers have a special role in education – especially children. Falconers have daily contact with members of the public with whom they interact: farmers, farm labourers, pigeon fanciers etc., all have an impact on raptors, prey species and environment. Most national falconry organizations are involved regularly in schools and youth organizations.
Educating young people leads to public awareness, not only in their generation, but they in turn educate their parents and those around them. Even something as seemingly trite a Facebook has been used as a conservation tool by falconers: New Zealand’s Bird of the Year 2013 is the Karearea, the New Zealand falcon. Falconers all over the world voted to help it win in an internet contest. The falcon is heavily persecuted there and this project can help to minimise it.
Falconers are active in many high-profile re-introduction projects, for example a Spanish falconer hand-rears Bonelli’s eagles for a high-profile reintroduction project with extensive media coverage. The same falconers run conservation projects on big eagles in South America and South-East Asia
Most falconers have at some time been involved in the rehabilitation of sick and injured birds of prey, using falconry techniques to ensure they are not only able to fly, but they are fit and able to hunt for themselves in the wild, before releasing them. The Japan Falconiformes Centre is a falconer led specialised facility for rehabilitation and release with the premise that injured birds must go through four stages - examination, treatment, rehabilitation and release. In Kenya falconers, with the absence of any Government raptor facility are the only ones doing any rehabilitation and the falconers of the Club Fridericus Rex are the first people on Malta to rehabilitate birds of prey. Rehabilitation center and hospitals run by falconers are present in many countries all over the world.
To address the issue of electrocution on power lines of raptors and other birds, IAF in December 2012 started an International Data Base of Electrocutions of falconers’ birds of prey with aim to convince the electricity companies to improve the pylons and avoid dangerous constructions in future.
Falconry has been inscribed as Cultural Heritage of Humanity by a number of countries led by UAE and more countries are recognizing its value and adding it to their list.
There are many UAE falconer-led initiatives: captive breeding centres for falcons, a passport system launched to reduce the illegal trade in falcons, the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Project returning thousands falcons to the wild at the end of the annual hunting seasons, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (ADFH) and the Dubai Falcon Hospital (DFH) are the largest falcon hospitals in the world and a leading centre for falcon medicine, the Falcon Genome Project will help to decipher genetic relationships between wild populations and will help managing the captive populations of falcons long-term and the current Mongolia Saker project (sponsored by Abu Dhabi Falconers Club) where in 2010, 5000 artificial nests for Saker Falcons were erected in Mongolia, in addition to the 250 nests that had already been part of a five-year experimental study.
IAF’s full name includes the words “…and Conservation…”. Since the beginning IAF was active in conservation activities, cooperating from the beginning with the International Council for Bird Preservation, now Birdlife International. IAF has observer status at the Bern Convention, is a member of IUCN, is a Cooperating Partner of Raptors MoU and a UNESCO International Advisory NGO.