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Falconry – a questionable tradition

Kestrel on the falconer's arm (© Josemanuel/wikimedia commons)Kestrel on the falconer's arm (© Josemanuel/wikimedia commons)Some 80,000 eagles, hawks, falcons and owl are kept in wildlife parks, castle falconries and by private falconers in Germany. These proud birds spend their lives chained to a perch as a status symbol of their owner or as an attraction in falconry shows. A great number of these birds have been caught in the wild as adults, or taken as chicks from the nest, and later trained for hawking. The loss of all their natural habits regularly leads to behavioural disturbance and sometimes to death. When one considers that raptors have territories of up to 150 km² in area, and spend several hours in flight every day, it is not surprising that birds in falconries often develop into hospitalised behavioural cripples.

If a bird survives the training period, its owner uses it principally for hunting birds and small mammals. Once in the air the birds – unaware of the catalogue of huntable species in Germany – hunt as a rule all birds and mammals which fall into their natural prey spectrum. Protected species such as Turtle Doves and song birds are often killed in such hunts. Sometimes however the tables are turned. In 2002 a television team covering such an event filmed a Golden Eagle which caused a sensation by, sinking its talons into its owner’s dachshund instead of stooping on a fox which had been put up for the cameras.

Eagle Owl used for falconry (© Ph. Oelwein/wikimedia commons)Eagle Owl used for falconry (© Ph. Oelwein/wikimedia commons)A further problem is the involvement of numerous German falconers in the illegal bird trade. Checks by customs officers and nature protection authorities regularly discover poached and smuggled birds, which are then confiscated. Legally kept raptors are often used to cover up illegal activities. Not so long ago a falconer in Solingen was imprisoned for a year for declaring, and then selling, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and Booted Eagles as offspring of captive birds. A DNA test by the customs service revealed that this was not the case. Neither the declared captive-reared eagles were related to their alleged parents, nor were several Goshawks in fact siblings from the brood of captive-reared birds. German falconers are time and again taken to court in other countries for taking birds from the wild and for illegal trading in wild birds. The arguments of many falconers that their hobby leads to better protection and understanding of their birds of prey are repeated regularly ad absurdum. CABS therefore demands that hawking with live raptors be banned and calls for strict regulation of their possession and trade.