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Falconry flies high in Abu Dhabi

In the November 2014 issue of THG, we featured a story about local falconer, George McAllister, who had been asked to assist in the staging of the 3rd. International Festival of Falconry in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). As reported, George was only too delighted to jet off to the Persian Gulf on an amazing all-expenses-paid junket in the company of a number of other prominent members of SA Falconry Association (SAFA) to lend his knowledge and expertise in making this event a success. As George was leaving, he promised to return and give us the full story of his adventures in the desert…

True to his word, a smiling George returned in time for Christmas – and in time for THG to get his story before going to print with this issue. As guests of His Highness, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahayan, ruler of the UAE, George arrived in the Gulf, where, to his relief, it was winter and he was spared some of the scorching summer temperatures which can easily top 50 degrees Celsius. Instead, the daily average was a comfortable 23-25 degrees. However, on arrival, it wasn’t long before Murphy’s Law kicked in for George, his son Ben and Willem, another participant from the Netherlands and their hapless limo. driver. The language barrier and a mix-up with the directions saw the freshly arrived delegates going aimlessly off-road through the sandy wastes in the air-conditioned limo. into the “back of beyond”. Until they arrived at a security checkpoint manned by armed soldiers… After some rather tense explanations and lots of gabbled apologies from the nervous limo. driver, things were quickly sorted out and, in the end, a smiling UAE military gave George & co. an escort to the their correct destination – at a hair-raising 180 kmh!

In the two weeks leading up to the Festival, George put participants and birds alike through their paces in a remote, but nonetheless fully air-conditioned and luxurious tented camp in the desert outside the capital city of Abu Dhabi. As George related to THG: “We were treated like absolute kings! Nothing was too much trouble and only the best of everything was good enough for the Sheikh’s international guests.” Once everyone was “on the same page”, the smooth running of the 3-day festival went off without a hitch and was a great success. On the final day, and the “grand parade” of competitors and participating countries, saw many falconers decked out in the traditional costumes of their respective countries as they and their magnificent birds strutted their stuff. South Africa (and, of course, George) were absolutely thrilled to be part of such a prestigious international event. Much was learned and new falconry bonds were forged with many individual falconers and organisations around the world which can only but help to ensure the continued growth of this ancient sport in South Africa.


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