Last week, the leader of Qatar, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, reportedly jetted into Kazakhstan on a private hunting trip. But things didn’t go quite as planned.
According to local Kazakh reports, the emir’s favorite hunting falcon, apparently named Ali, died while held in a government customs warehouse. A second bird among a flock of 12 predators also perished.
An account of the incident was posted on Facebook by Kazakh journalist Denis Krivosheyev and picked up by Eurasia.net, a Washington-based news site that monitors affairs in Central Asia. It redacts more from Krivosheyev’s account:
Krivosheev wrote that 12 rare saker falcons had been brought into [main Kazakh city of] Almaty for further transportation to the southern city of Taraz. Officials with the prosecutor’s office, however, insisted the birds not be released pending inspection as there have been cases of old falcons being brought into Kazakhstan and switched for younger ones, which would then be exported, depriving the country of healthier specimens. Last year, the inspection routine was performed discreetly and lasted no more than six hours, Krivosheev reported.
The neglected birds suffered in unsuitable conditions while in Kazakh custody; local officials are squabbling over whose fault it is.
The Qatari emir is said to have left Kazakhstan on Friday, angry about the mistreatment of his falcons. Qatari officials are preparing a “letter of protest,” according to Krivosheyev. (The Qatari Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to queries regarding the state of the emir’s falcons and the veracity of the Kazakh reports.)
Kazakhstan, as well as adjoining Central Asian states, is a hotbed for hunting through falconry, a practice that has deep roots in the nomadic cultures of the region. The assorted royals of the Persian Gulf states, where the sport is also enmeshed in Bedouin Arab traditions, happen to be now some of the world’s most avid, enthusiastic falconers.
Prized falcons can cost up to $1 million each and a lucrative trade exists in the snaring and grooming of such remarkable winged hunters. And numerous Emirati, Saudi and Qatari notables and princelings embark on frequent falconry expeditions in the wilds of Central and West Asia.
One particularly popular destination was the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, a vast expanse of terrain where foreign falconers have long pursued the houbara bustard, a species of bird favored for its fleshy meat. The intense hunting of the bustards led to a local court suspending foreign hunting permits last year. But that didn’t stop the arrival of a prominent Saudi royal in February 2015, much to the chagrin of some Pakistanis.
“This is a clear admission of servility to the rich Arabs,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent Pakistani commentator, told the New York Times last year. “They come here, hunt with impunity, and are given police protection in spite of the fact that they are violating local laws.”