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On The Chase

On The Chase video

The weather in October is still very warm during the day so the hunting sessions start early in the morning, before sunrise. After a quick tea time and the morning prayer, the teams of two or three people prepare the bait birds that are fitted with line loop traps and placed in the mutrafa (bird boxes) so the birds can be grabbed quickly when a falcon is in sight. The wooden box used by Abu Yazin looks fairly old and has one side cut out that serves as ‘cubbyhole’ access with a little ‘gate’ made of heavy cardboard nailed to it, presumably to keep the bird from backing out. The box is divided by a wooden spacer in order to accommodate two birds. The team hops in the truck with the bait birds and begins to drive about 20 minutes from the camp through the smooth desert terrain to reach a higher point of view while the radio broadcasts a religious talk about the first part of the Shahada, “lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh “ (there is only one God) accompanied by bird sounds. From the inside of the truck, we can see the sun rising over the horizon through the loop traps that are covering the dashboard, while the greetings between all other hunting teams sound over the CB radio for about half an hour, as if they were meeting face to face. “Sabah kehr”, “Kefalik?”, “Shu akbarak”, “Shlonak?”.

The entire Jafr Basin group uses a series of CB radio channels to inform each other the location of birds that are spotted and if they happen to make a capture. Typically, information on the location of birds is only shared between individuals that are part of the same hunting group, usually 8-10 men who are closely related and who share a bet sha’ar (the Bedouin tent). Each group uses their own specific, somewhat secret CB channel to communicate in order to prevent other groups from picking up on identified prey. Once a prized bird is sighted, hunters in pursuit decide to either go it alone or with the larger group, after taking into account numerous factors. These include the type of bird and hence potential for financial reward; the technical difficulties involved with capturing the bird; and the kinship or social relationships with other individuals hunting in the area. When a Peregrine falcon was sighted by Prof. Khoury and then by Abu Yazin during an early evening observation session, the bird was soaring at a very high altitude and was not yet making a descent for the night. Abu Yazin immediately picked up the CB radio and announced on an open channel that he had sighted a Peregrine and was going after it. We jumped into the truck and made pursuit. And within five minutes, eight other vehicles were hot on our tail and fanning out across the landscape to form a somewhat haphazard chain. By making a public claim on the Peregrine, Abu Yazin ensured his stake in potential earnings but because he knew the Peregrine was going to maintain flight for some time and be difficult to track solo, he called on others for help. There is also a shared channel that all 50 camps have access to and when a falcon is captured, it is celebrated by everyone. Even if the financial reward is obviously not going to be split with the whole group, everybody is ignited with excitement for the person who captured the falcon and a congratulatory “Mabrouk!” sounds over the CB from all different camps for at least half an hour following the catch as proof of support, motivation, and respect.

Although most trucks used by the Bedouin are late models, they are an important asset that also proves to be the most expensive for the community, as gas is not cheap in Jordan. According to Abu Saoud, the cousin of Abu Yazin, the cost is around 1000JD (~$1,400 USD) per truck each season. There are some strict rules between hunters, like keeping about 1km distance between every truck so that nobody scares away a potential falcon that the other team was silently tracking. The trucks usually carry two people, one driving and the other observing the birds and managing the bait release whenever a falcon shows up. Most of the time during the hunting sessions is dedicated to scanning the skies using binoculars and driving around ‘wadis’, a local name for small drained rivers where some bushes remain, and small birds congregate, making it a popular hunting ground for falcons. Unlike many birds, falcons don’t migrate in flocks, so patience and observation skills are highly required as the lonely raptors are harder to be sighted than big flocks of birds. However, at times, falcons will travel with Steppe buzzards, so hunters always keep an eye on the latter birds.