Russian officials seized eight endangered falcons from a plane bound for Syria this week.
The falcons seized were gyrfalcons, the largest and most powerful species of falcon. Because of this, they are highly prized by falconry enthusiasts. Falconry has been practiced for thousands of years, and was popular during the Roman Empire, and in medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Falconry is still practiced around the world today and has been gaining in popularity in the Middle East in recent years. This is driving the demand for falcons, including endangered ones like the gyrfalcon.
Because of its prowess, the gyrfalcon was considered a royal bird in the Middle Ages and in the 15th century. A book on the subject of falconry said that gyrfalcons were only suitable for use by kings.
The price tag on an animal’s head is often the most important factor when discussing how to save or protect an endangered species. The more lucrative the endeavor, the greater lengths poachers will go to in order to capture animals.
A gyrfalcon fetches 50,000 USD on the black market.
With an economic incentive like that, gyrfalcons join tigers, rhinos, and Cypriot songbirds on a long list of animals being hunted, killed, stolen, bartered and sold to satisfy human greed. Organizations like CITES and local animal advocacy groups sadly are often outmanned and outbid by fencers and gangs of poachers.
Sports like falconry drive the black market in Russia and the Middle East for raptor species like gyrfalcons and could be the factor that drives them to extinction. The market – primarily from circuses and zoos – for animal entertainment in the United States drives a demand for elephants, lions and other wild animals.
In a world that only values animal life for its usefulness to humans, the only animal that will be safe from relentless hunting, kidnapping, torture and murder is an animal that has the good fortune to be both useless to humans and the luck of inhabiting an area that humans haven’t seen fit to build houses on or dump hazardous waste into.
Only by recognizing that animals are more than property can we change any of this. Only by ending all animal exploitation, from hunting, to circuses, to animal agriculture, can we eliminate the economic demand that drives poaching and every other atrocity that threatens biodiversity on this planet.
Photo: US Air Force