Response to “Do we really need falconry in Namibia?”, Namibia Bird News No 16

March 2016

The following letter was received by the editor in response to an article published in the previous newsletter, the author’s name and contact details are known to the editor.

Dear Sir,
Firstly, please may I compliment you on an informative and interesting publication which undoubtedly contributes to the knowledge of birds in Namibia and to dissemination of information on their conservation.
In your December Issue, you published an article: “Do we really need falconry in Namibia”. We would like to thank you for publishing this as it raises a valuable debate that may contribute to the promotion of conservation of birds of prey within Namibia. Indeed, this article raises more questions than the one articulated within the title and it may be valuable to address these.
The first question is raised by the photo of what would appear to be an immature Pale Chanting Goshawk killed by a vehicle on a highway and so its death cannot be attributed to falconry. This bird has Aylmeri anklets on its legs. The author correctly identifies these as attachments for button jesses and part of the “falconry tool-kit” for handling captive raptors. These anklets are a fairly recent innovation in falconry and a safe form of “jessing”, comparable to bird rings, that prevent the unintended snagging of the hawk which may be caused by “traditional” jesses. If we use the definition of falconry as “the hunting of wild quarry with a trained hawk in the natural environment”, then we will recognize that many people use falconry methods and tools when managing raptors and these would include falconers, rehabilitators, breeders, those involved in raptor displays and raptor researchers. The author refers to the necessity for people who use falconry methods to be properly trained in their use and, in this, she is absolutely correct. It is of very real concern to falconers that other people may use their methods without proper training and use them incorrectly. It is also of very real concern that falconry, when practiced illegally, is practiced in isolation without legitimate contact with other falconers and with neither access to training and mentoring nor instruction in valuable innovations. The falconry clubs in Southern Africa all have a structured apprenticeship, mentoring and grading system. They also regularly make their skills available to rehabilitators, researchers and others who have need to handle raptors.
The second set of questions raised is whether falconry is practiced in Namibia and whether it is illegal. Under Namibian law, falconry is a prohibited hunting method that may be practiced under permit. Thus the conservation authorities may, at their discretion, issue permits for falconry {This is incorrect: the Nature Conservation Ordinance is quite clear that wild animals may not be killed by any other means than shooting [para 40 (1)(a)(i)] – Ed.}. We have indicated above some of the benefits which arise if falconry is permitted legally and these benefits are supported by the experience in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Indeed, the law in South Africa was identical to that in Namibia until the gazetting of the Norms and Standards for the Regulation of the Hunting Industry. These Norms and Standards recognize the practice of falconry as a legitimate field sport and also recognize the role of the South African Falconry Association in the grading and accreditation of falconers. The decision to take this step was based on the recognition of the role of falconers in self-policing their art. In Southern Africa, falconers rely on a strictly regulated and entirely sustainable harvest of wild raptors for use in falconry. Experience shows this harvest to be very small. In South Africa, some 110 practicing falconers harvest about 30 raptors of a range of species annually. These birds remain the property of the state, so there is virtually no trade. Falconers, who are very aware of this privilege, police their practitioners very strictly. Falconry is an extraordinarily demanding art which limits the number of practitioners. Would a maximum of 30 falconers in Namibia, who may harvest some 10 raptors annually, cause any conceivable harm to raptor conservation? With the support of legitimate falconers, we cannot believe that the administration of falconry is beyond the capacity of Namibian wildlife authorities. We must ask the question, however, – how practical is it to enforce a complete ban on falconry without the cooperation of legitimate falconers?
We must also respond to the main question of this article – “Does Namibia need falconry?” Of course, a nation may have many things which are not needed but which contribute to the quality of life of its inhabitants. Nations do not need football or golf or classical music or city parks or television. All of these things contribute to the lives of the nation’s inhabitants and there is no reason to ban them unless there

is demonstrable harm or they impact on the rights of other citizens. Why then, should we banish falconry?
On the other hand, we contend that the answer to this question is an undoubted “YES”. Falconry has a track record around the world which demonstrates its benefits and, even with an inevitably small group of practitioners, these benefits would accrue in Namibia.
Falconers contribute to conservation globally. Falconers in every country where falconry is practiced legitimately contribute in some way to conservation. Historically the very first instances of conservation legislation were enacted for falconry, setting limits and controls on the access to wild hawks during the middle ages. Following the collapse of raptor populations around the world as a result of DDT, the Madison Conference of 1965, which involved falconers and raptor researchers, led to the decision to use captive breeding as a restoration tool and the formation of the Raptor Research Foundation in 1967. Similarly, the Peregrine Fund was established in the USA to restore the North American Peregrine by falconers and, to this day, all members of the board of the Peregrine Fund are falconers. Needless to say, this fund is now concerned with the restoration of many other species and it is involved all over the world (some instances of which are mentioned in the article on which we comment). The same involvement is seen in other countries where falconers have contributed, such as to the restoration of the Northern Goshawk in Britain and the “tree-nesting” Peregrine in central Europe. In Southern Africa, falconers have been involved in projects with Taita Falcons, Black Sparrowhawks and the Crowed Eagle amongst other species and contribute very meaningfully to education and outreach. On the global scale, falconers are active and represented in the IUCN, the Convention on Migratory Species, the Bern Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, and the Collaborative Partnership on Wildlife Management.
The global representative of falconry is the International Association for Falconry and the Conservation of Birds of Prey, and this organization is funding and managing the first of the flagship projects of the Saker Global Action Plan, in collaboration with CMS/UNEP, BirdLife International and the IUCN. Surely Namibian falconers would involve themselves positively in the conservation effort in Namibia.
The role of falconers in the development of raptor management techniques and involvement in animal welfare measures related to raptors has already been mentioned and is well recognized. The International Association for Falconry and the Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF) is involved in the organization of international veterinary conferences to improve veterinary knowledge related to birds of prey and has set standards and guidelines for the welfare of falconry raptors. Falconers all over the world contribute to and benefit from this effort. Falconers are invaluable in the preparation of raptors, undergoing rehabilitation, for release. This contribution is recognized and valued by many rehabilitators. In the Western Cape, a Rehabilitation Protocol has been developed through the consultation between rehabilitators, falconers, researchers and conservation authorities and this protocol has been promoted in other countries around the world.
Falconry is a ”World Intangible Cultural Heritage”, recognized as such in 2010 by UNESCO. Falconers were represented at the recent UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Windhoek in November 2015. It is true that falconry is not an indigenous practice in Namibia. It is however practiced in at least 8 African countries (and some 100 globally) and is part of the cultural heritage of the Namibians of British, Dutch and German extraction. Part of the benefit of a multicultural society is sharing of and respect for one-another’s cultures; so falconry is as much part of the fabric of modern day Namibian culture, as are the works of William Shakespeare.
Namibia is a conservation success story in a world desperately in need of such stories. A huge portion of the land surface of Namibia is formally conserved while the formation of conservancies in communal lands has led the way in extending conservation beyond formally conserved areas. Hunting is a factor in this conservation effort and contributes significantly to the success. Why then this fear of a minimally consumptive hunting method which demonstrably contributes to the conservation effort on a global scale?