Middle Eastern royalty are not an uncommon sight in Central Asia, which is a favored destination for lovers of falconry.
So there was nothing too unusual on September 28, when Forbes.kz reported that the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had flown into Kazakhstan on a private visit for a hunt with his beloved bustards.
The emir is a regular visitor to Kazakhstan and reportedly favors hunting in the deserts near Lake Balkhash, the site of a falconry facility. His latest visit was due to last two weeks, but for an unfortunate incident at Almaty airport.
As journalist Denis Krivosheev revealed on his Facebook account, the emir’s favorite falcon, Ali, died in the customs warehouse from “overexposure.” A day later, yet another falcon perished.
Krivosheev wrote that 12 rare saker falcons had been brought into Almaty for further transportation to the southern city of Taraz. Officials with the prosecutor’s office, however, insisted the birds not be released pending inspection as there have been cases of old falcons being brought into Kazakhstan and switched for younger ones, which would then be exported, depriving the country of healthier specimens. Last year, the inspection routine was performed discreetly and lasted no more than six hours, Krivosheev reported.
“They fed them the first time on Monday [September 26], but the birds already began falling ill,” he wrote. “There were no obvious reasons for holding them, but still the falcons stayed in the same place.”
Each falcon can, by some estimates, cost anything between $100,000 and $150,000, so it may not be surprising that the emir is, according to Krivosheev, mulling writing a formal note of protest.
Tengri News has cited the office of the State Revenues Department in Almaty as saying the birds were held because of failure to properly follow documentation procedures. Airport officials, meanwhile, are pinning the blame on customs officials, who they said put the falcons in premises not designed to store live animals.
The Emir of Qatar left Kazakhstan on October 1, and there is no indication he plans to ever come back — an embarrassing impasse for a country whose tourist industry has profited handsomely from falconry.
According to Forbes magazine, Kazakhstan has for 16 years offered a unique service to avid falconers by allowing hunting in the wild. In 2000, the government drew up rules on falconry that regulated the activity. These rules granted special permits to foreign nationals that could demonstrate their contribution to the preservation and reproduction of endangered species through their sport. Hunters from the Middle East, who have invested into researching and revitalizing Kazakhstan’s native falcon population, were lively beneficiaries of the laws.