A Saudi Prince's flock of falcons have joined an exclusive list of birds capable of travelling at the altitude of a plane - following in the wake of Rüppell's vulture, the Bar-headed goose or the Demoiselle crane.
A photo published on Monday (January 30th) on Reddit showing 80 raptors aboard an airliner quickly went viral. This snapshot taken by the pilot prior to take-off is unusual. Perched at the back of the cabin, each bird of prey occupies its own seat and is adorned with a leather hood to avoid stress. Sitting close at hand are their trainers, the falconers, distinguished by their keffiyehs. But the highlight of the show is the two stewards performing security demonstrations in front of their feathered passengers.
This surprising practice is nevertheless relatively common in the Gulf. Falcons are indeed used for many occasions: hunting, racing, contests, etc. In a clear sign of their status, the United Arab Emirates' national emblem is a golden falcon. Since 2002, in an effort to prevent smuggling, the UAE has issued three-year passports to these raptors, worth up to a million dollars each. They can travel by plane to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco or Syria.