What is the World's Fastest Animal?

04 November 2018

Lab Chat

With 2018 being National Geographic’s ‘Year of the Bird’, there’s no better time to raise awareness of the world’s fastest creature – the falcon.

Many of us mistakenly crown the cheetah as the fastest animal on earth. In fact, although cheetahs are the fastest land animals, they are 3 times slower than a falcon. The magnificent bird can dive at an impressive 240mph!

Read on as we take a closer look at falcons and how they’re on the rise in the UAE.

Falcons under threat

It’s the speed, agility and beauty of falcons that attracted Sheikh Butti, who owns hundreds of falcons. Along with his falcon breeder, Howard Waller, he has pioneered important changed in Arab Falconry. They breed and hand-raise every bird they fly, majorly influencing falcon conservation.

Due to habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade, several species are under constant threat. Falcon eggs and chicks are also often targeted by eagles and owls. The work of Howard and Sheikh Butti has made a huge difference in the UAE, with the majority of falconers now flying captive-bred birds.

History of the falcon

The falcon has a long and colourful history, dating back over 4,000 years. The Epic of Gilgamesh makes reference to falconry in Iraq, being the earliest noted practice of catching and training the creatures. Over the years, the falcon has become a symbol of wealth and power. King Tutankhamun was buried wearing a falcon pendant, and there are many Greek coins showing Zeus with a falcon.

However, it’s Arabia that has the strongest claim and connection to falconry over the years. Over half of the world’s falconers reside here, with falcons being revered and respected. While in Europe, falconry was largely the sport of Kings, it was a critical tool for survival in Arabia.

In the harsh desert environments, Bedouins would catch falcons and train them to hunt prey to feed themselves and their families. Food caught by falcons is even declared safe to eat for Muslims, with the Prophet Muhammad mentioning in in the Qur’an.

The falcon and the UAE

The development of Dubai and other emirates in the 20th century almost wiped out falconry in the UAE. Similar to a mass mortality event, the population of the falcon decreased significantly in a short space of time. Hunting of the bird was banned as the number of birds declined rapidly, due to loss of habitat.

However, in the early 2000s, falcon racing was introduced to make falconry more accessible to all Emirate residents. This has drastically improved the life of falcons, with falcon hospitals and shops dotted all around the UAE. With a prize fund of almost 7 million dollars, people take great pride and care of falcons, training them up to be the very best.

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