Riyadh Stories and Tips

The Falconers' Meeting

Saudi Falconers Photo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

One of my favorite pastimes in Riyadh was to wander down to the square in front of the main Friday mosque early on a Friday morning to chat with the Saudis who gathered there every week to show off their birds and exchange hunting stories. Whether this is still possible now that the entire downtown district of Riyadh has been torn down and rebuilt from scratch is doubtful.

Be that as it may, when I lived there in the early to late 80s it was a great experience. As many as a couple dozen men with three times as many birds would be there. They would stick their wooden perches in the ground, tether the birds to them, and proudly show them off to anyone who happened by. The atmosphere was quite extraordinary for Saudi Arabia. Here, strangers could talk and relax. And if the odd foreigner like myself popped up, all the better. One or two of them would usually know some English, and if you were lucky, they'd put a glove on you and perch a bird on your wrist.

A Note about Falconry
Beneath Saudi Arabia's 21st century technological patina lies a deeply conservative, traditional society. This manifests itself in many ways, one of the more intriguing of which is the abiding love of falconry, a sport that dates back millenia. Enthusiasts -- almost exclusively members of the Al-Saud royal family -- spend huge sums on the birds, which must be captured in the wild if they are to be of any use for hunting. Since there are no indigenous birds left in the wild, they are "imported" (read: smuggled) into the country from places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the princes try to protect local endangered species, this does not necessarily hold true for the raptors they require to maintain this "sport of kings"

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