Falconers flock to Riyadh to celebrate ancient sport

RIYADH, Dec 5 - Bird lovers from across the Gulf gathered in Saudi Arabia's capital for a week-long falcon and hunting exhibition, aimed at increasing awareness of the ancient sport, particularly among the young.

The Saudi Falcons and Hunting Exhibition, which runs from Dec. 4-8 in Riyadh, brought together falconers, breeders and hunting enthusiasts from across the Middle East and featured birds from as far afield as Siberia.

"It only lives in cold places. Here in Saudi Arabia we can only use it in the winter season because in summer the falcon will easily get tired and can't interact and fly strongly," said Aiman al-Ashgari, a falconer from Jeddah.

Hunting with falcons, a practice Arab nomads used to survive life in the desert, has become an increasingly elaborate and expensive sport, with owners keeping birds worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in vast air-conditioned aviaries, using helium balloons and drones to train them at high altitudes.

Among the younger competitors was hunting enthusiast Marra al-Qahtani, who said it was important to preserve ancient traditions.

"We like technology but this does not contradict our love for hunting," he said. "We inherited this from our grandparents and ancestors, for whom hunting was a way of life. It is a luxury now but we still hold onto it."