[Tweeters] Saudis and birds

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Thu May 26 20:44:28 PDT 2022

Dear Tweeters,
This might venture close to the boundaries for Tweeters propriety.
What I have to say is about Saudi Arabian hunters and falconers, and has absolutely nothing to do with hunters or falconers anywhere else on Earth.
Having lived and birded in Saudi Arabia for four years, 1998-2002, I will say that the level of awareness of wildlife conservation there is utterly abysmal. There might be a few enlightened Saudi hunters or falconers, but I never encountered one. Not a single, solitary one--and I birded there for four years, several times a week, usually in places where there was "hunting," if one could call it that.

There is a chance that, over the past twenty years, the Saudis suddenly learned to be wise conservators of wildlife. I would say that the chances border on the absurdly remote.
I encountered scores and scores of men with guns. They didn't merit the term "hunter." They shot birds and other wildlife in city parks, in royal conservation areas, and in national parks. I watched one Saudi posing for a photo in front of a big national park sign that said "no hunting" in Arabic. He was holding the head of an ibex that he'd just poached from within the park.
Rollers and Hoopoes are most definitely not halal (nor kosher for that matter). Nonetheless, Saudis would shoot them every fall migration, only to chop out one little organ--I think it was a liver or something. They believed it was an aphrodisiac. The remains of those beautiful birds were left in situ. 
I watched them shoot a Greater Spotted Eagle. I watched them shoot egrets, herons, ducks, storks, thrushes, cranes, swallows, buntings, greenshanks, plovers, and wheatears. Not a single one of those birds were ever kept. They were just left lying on the ground, or floating on the water. Sometimes the victim would live, but end its days staggering about in the desert. 
The only bird I ever saw them take home was the European Turtle Dove. The Saudis along the Red Sea have a particular mania for that species. Most of the above-mentioned birds were just blasted out of the sky, or out of the water, or off a perch, for the sheer thrill of killing, during lulls in the intense Turtle-Dove hunts. Outside of Turtle Dove season, the men would just go out and shoot things, taking home nothing.
The number of Turtle Doves shot by these men is small, though, compared to the vast numbers that are captured every year on islets in the southern Red Sea, by means of bird-lime and nets. A significant portion of Europe's entire annual production of young Turtle Doves perish this way. It is no wonder that the species is listed as Vulnerable.
I looked and looked for the Houbara when I was there. I showed pictures to Bedouin and inquired, but all I ever got was a sad shake of the head. In the back country, Saudis drive around in Toyota pickup trucks, shooting things. There are very, very few mammals of any size to be encountered. Even the dhab, a type of edible lizard, is very difficult to find, so great is the hunting pressure. Once rifles and pickup trucks were introduced, large birds such as the houbara, as well as big game mammals, were doomed.
Falconry is known to continue at a high level in Arabia; there are many fabulously wealthy princes who can afford to keep a staff to tend to the birds. All of the falconers I encountered appeared inept. I never saw one doing much beyond chasing after a falcon that would not come back.
Meanwhile, in four years, I saw a grand total of zero wild large falcons in Arabia. Here and there, a kestrel or hobby might appear, but never any of the larger ones. I suspect that they have been trapped out, at least in the regions I visited. 
Yours respectfully,
Gary  Bletsch

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