Economics of Falcon Trapping

Economics of Falcon Trapping video

In Bedouin culture, hunting falcons is a sport that involves plenty of craft skills and techniques to capture these raptors alive. The rarest and most prestigious of these birds, like the Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) and Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), can fetch high prices from Saudi and Emerati buyers. According to Prof. Cheryl Makarewicz, who has spent a number of years studying social relationships in Jordan and surrounding areas, the proximity to potential buyers in Saudi Arabia and the extension of local tribal territories and associated social networks into Saudi Arabia, likely also provide a key socio-economic framework that enables and supports falcon capture as a regionally specific practice. Even if some falcons can be sold for up to $500K in the most extreme cases, a price told to us by another Bedouin camp member relating to a Saker falcon that was captured and sold at auction in Kuwait, they are more likely to be sold around $25-50K. The money is usually split between several people as the funds from the sale essentially go to anyone involved in the capture, from the person who first spotted the bird to the driver of the truck, and the person carrying and launching the traps. Not to mention the people in the camp who helped make the traps and the close family members who will share the rest. Due to this, there isn’t a lot of money to be made from each captured falcon, as the success rate is also staggeringly low. For the last two migrating seasons, only one bird has been captured each year from the 40-50 camps who set up to hunt them in the Jafr basin. This year yielded slightly better results with six birds captured, but this is an effort involving around 400 people on daily basis, for almost three months. 

The photos of the captured raptors that are posted online show characteristics about the birds that define the potential selling price. Sakers are thought to be particularly adept learners and amenable to training compared to other species, therefore they fetch the highest prices, ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 JD. The price of the Saker falcon is determined by a combination of size and aesthetics. The paler the feathers, the more expensive the bird and, as larger birds are associated with strength, their weight also drives the price up, as well as the size of the beak and feet. Like the Saker, size plays a role in determining the value of the Peregrine, but age is also an important factor. Large and young Peregrines bring in the highest prices and can be sold for up to 35,000 JD. The price declines rapidly for birds that are older than two years, with birds aged two-four bringing in between 1,000 – 4,000 JD.

Despite all this, the export of falcons out of Jordan is illegal as it is in violation of CITES. This is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. However, the ‘export’ activity does not seem to be categorized as illegal by the Bedouin, who instead partly legitimize the practice by stating that their tribal territory extends into Saudi Arabia. In their eyes, they are not crossing a border but simply traversing their own territory. There is little to no policing of capture activities by rangers for several reasons (e.g., little knowledge of navigating the terrain) but possibly also legalistic ones (i.e. the capture of falcons itself is not illegal). Tribal strength and loyalty also likely play an important role in this dynamic. The government depends on tribal support to maintain the Kingdom, especially from the communities in this region who provide recruits for the military. At the same time, Bedouin communities in Jordan are seen as very loyal to the government, although they exercise their own power and autonomy. This sentiment is reflected in a comment made by one senior individual (name withheld for this report), who declared, “We are not afraid of our government!”. Ultimately, by not providing enough rangers to cover the region, the government maintains the status quo.