Friday, October 7, 2011

Falcons with Passports

Falcons are a big deal in the UAE and an important part of the culture here. Falcons have been used for hunting by the desert dwelling people of Arabia for years and are often thought of as family members, much like hunting dogs (or a cat named Rogue).

Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest birds on the planet and can fetch prices of more than $2500 depending on the blood line. And owning a falcon legally is only possible with a license, which will take you around 7 years of training to obtain. Getting into falconry is a serious commitment and a costly one.

So, I shouldn't have been surprised when I learned that falcons can ride inside the aircraft on Etihad Airways. There's a whole pet policy dedicated to the transport of falcons, which are the ONLY animal allowed inside the cabin on our flights. A falcon owner can carry up to 3 falcons, but only 2 of them can ride in the cabin (the 3rd has to ride in cargo with the rest of the pets). And, you need to purchase a full far seat for the bird - one travels buckled into the seat and the second on the floor of the cabin. Unfortunately, I haven't yet seen this, but maybe now that I'll be flying Etihad more frequently, I'll get the chance. I'm guessing these guys fly business or first class too because if you can afford a falcon, why on earth would you sit back in coach?

As a side note, not even seeing eye dogs are allowed inside the cabin - only falcons. Dogs and any other animals with the appropriate papers need to travel in cargo. Luckily, Rogue is quite happy staying at home and getting spoiled by our cat sitter when we're away.

Okay, so I get that the falcon can ride in the cabin - fine and kinda cool, but then I also heard that many falcons have their own passport! Not wanting to be the butt of a joke, I looked it up online and sure enough, the UAE government portal includes instructions on how to obtain a passport for your falcon. After some further reading I found out that the passport process (which seems to be limited to UAE) is an attempt to reduce the illegal trade in falcons and was established in conjunction with a falcon registration program that started in 2002. In fact, now, falcons can only travel abroad with the proper registration and a valid passport. Boy, would I love to see that in the immigration line at the airport!

And I wonder if falcons also bemoan the fact that their passport photos look terrible?

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