Tech­nol­ogy and tra­di­tion flying high

Drones used to train birds of prey in the Dubai desert

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Shoshana Ke­dem @B_shosh Visit roy­al­sha­

Deep in the Dubai desert an ex­pert fal­coner has found a way to train birds us­ing drones.

Al­ways look­ing for novel ways to train and tempt the rap­tors with bait, Fal­conry spe­cial­ists Royal Sha­heen have put a high-tech spin on this age-old sport.

“This is a new way of get­ting a new level of fit­ness from a cap­tive bird,” said Royal Sha­heen’s ex­pert fal­coner Hen­drik Du Toit, who in­vited 7DAYS to join him at the crack of dawn in the Dubai desert, when he showed us the in­tri­cate de­tail that goes into train­ing birds of prey, in­clud­ing desert ea­gle owls, kestrels, pere­grine fal­cons, saker fal­cons and male spot­ted ea­gles.

The tra­di­tional way is us­ing a lure, a long piece of line with bait at­tached that is swung in an open space by the trainer as the fal­con swoops and dives, Du Toit said be­fore at­tach­ing a plas­tic tube to the base of a drone, along with a small para­chute with raw quail flesh.

The drone then whirs and buzzes through the air, as the fal­con tries to catch the meat in its claws. This ex­er­cise strength­ens the bird’s leg and back mus­cles, Hen­drik ex­plains.

“Us­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy you can make stronger, fit­ter, faster birds,” says Peter Bergh, the Director and Founder of Royal Sha­heen.

“By us­ing these dif­fer­ent de­vices we’re able to fine tune dif­fer­ent parts of the flying - climb­ing, turn­ing and pur­suit,” he said dur­ing the train­ing ses­sion in the Dubai desert on Satur­day.

“We don’t want the fal­con hunt­ing the drone be­cause it’s got ro­tat­ing blades, which is dan­ger­ous.

“It can cut the fal­con up and can re­ally cause some dam­age ,” added Bergh, who rears and trains some of the coun­try’s fastest and most prized fal­cons.

Bergh owns more than 90 rap­tors that have been bred in cap­tiv­ity on a farm in Lah­bab on the Al Ain road. His col­lec­tion is used for rac­ing and aerial shows. If you fancy try­ing it your­self, tourists can learn to train and feed fal­cons with fresh quail meat at a Bedouin camp in the desert as part of Royal Sha­heen’s sig­na­ture fal­con ex­pe­ri­ence.

Du Toit said: “The whole idea is to bring the guests a hands-on, up close and personal en­counter so they can get to know how spe­cial fal­cons ac­tu­ally are.”

FULL FLIGHT: The desert owl in flight is an im­pres­sive sight

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