Канадски журналисти проявиха интерес към Българската Асоциация за Запазване на Грабливите Птици

 

Снимка и хиляда думи

09 март 2008
Бил Тейлър

Unlike a pet, a falcon does not love its owner. It is simply opportunistic – and ready to \'stoop\' at any moment

 

 

TheStar.com - Ideas - A picture and a thousand words
Writer Bill Taylor encountered Plamen Penev (left) and Pavel Yakimov with their falcons near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.


SOFIA, BULGARIA–The men have the piercing eyes of falcons; the falcons an almost humanly intelligent gaze.

Falconry is a head game. Man versus bird; man melds with bird; man becomes bird; bird becomes extension of man.

A stylish pastime in a stylish city. Were they weaker-willed, the raptors – the word for any bird of prey – could almost be seen as a voguish accessory: "What goes best with this coat? The gyrfalcon or the peregrine? Neither? The merlin? You think?"

Or even (heaven forbid): "Does this kestrel make my butt look big?"

I encounter Plamen Penev (left) and Pavel Yakimov near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Bulgarian capital. Penev\'s purebred altai saker falcon is called Yurt and the name of Yakimov\'s hybrid gyr-saker translates as Lone Wolf. Yakimov is president of the Bulgarian Association for the Conservation of Birds of Prey.

Sofia is as chic as any city I\'ve seen. The stores along Vitosha Blvd., the main shopping street, are a fashionista\'s dream. Downtown is a place to see and be seen, which is why the birdmen are strolling here, though not for any reasons of vanity.

They\'re out to raise consciousness about their passion, to put it into its historical context in the face of those who want it outlawed.

"Our Greens are following the example of Germany\'s Greens, who are very strict," says Yakimov. "But our art is 10,000 years old... Along with the horse, it\'s one of the first examples of animals being trained by man. There\'s archaeological evidence of its existence."

An art? Absolutely, he says.

"You must be... dedicated to your life with birds. They are very strong and proud. You cannot recognize by their behaviour what they need. You must look into their eyes and read what you see there."

The eyes of the two birds are implacable, hard to fathom. They seem to be taking everything in but giving very little away.

These are killing machines. I\'ve backpacked on the Bruce Trail and had two raptors drop from the sky and make a low pass in formation by my hiking partner and me, their heads turning to "scope us out as dinner," says my friend.

One winter, we came upon the evidence of a drama in the snow: a trail of tiny footprints – a dormouse, perhaps, or a squirrel or chipmunk – on the track. Suddenly, they stopped. There was a single spot of blood and, on either side of the track, the clear impression of a wingtip in the snow. That was the day I\'d thought, "I can\'t be bothered to carry a camera..."

Training a falcon, bending it to your will, seems to be part physical, part mystical. At its most extreme, some aficionados reportedly stay awake for days, with the bird never leaving their gauntleted hand as they stroke the creature and talk to it until it becomes accustomed to them. Only then is the leather hood removed from the bird\'s head.

Yakimov and Penev are both carrying hoods but only use them if someone wants to take a picture of their birds that way. Yurt and Lone Wolf aren\'t perturbed by the hurly-burly of the city at midday. Inevitably, the hoods themselves have become modish. It\'s not always about the birds. An American website is "proud to offer a variety of unique and rare falconry hoods from the Middle East, Kazakhstan, China and other parts of the world... handcrafted, not often seen, very unique hoods."

Food is used for positive reinforcement. "Unlike pets, raptors are non-affectionate animals, having no ability to deal with dominant or submissive roles..." says one site. "They do not `love\' the falconer, they will not aim to please him; they are simply opportunistic and learn that life with the falconer affords the easiest and most reliable source of food and protection. Continuing the relationship, then, is a matter of convenience for the raptor. However, it is often thought there is a bond between bird and falconer, through which each trusts the other. The bird trusts the falconer not to steal its food and provide protection, and the falconer trusts the bird to come back."

That\'s how Yakimov sees it. He has an affinity with his birds. He regards it as a partnership rather than dominance and compliance. "A falcon demands patience and respect. The relationship is..." For the first time he struggles for the right word in English... "delicate. It\'s why this is not for everyone and why anyone who wants to join our group is examined very closely."

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry website: "There is a century-old tradition in Bulgaria to protect birds of prey, and our country was the first in Europe to introduce a special protection for the most endangered species with the Hunting Law in 1897. Now all the species of birds of prey in Bulgaria are protected under the Law on Biological Diversity."

Inevitably, there\'s a "but."

"It is not the right time to permit falconry in Bulgaria, because the consequences for nature are dangerous... The state of the hunting falcon in Bulgaria is critical and this species is actually vanishing from the ornith-fauna of this country... Another argument against the legitimization of falconry and hunting with falcons is the current real danger for large-scale illegal depravation of the wildlife from any species of bird of prey."

At best it\'s a grey rather than green area, Yakimov acknowledges. Fly your raptor by all means, but the moment it "stoops" – drops from the sky at 150 km/h – and strikes its quarry, you might be liable to arrest. Out in the wilderness, you\'d most likely get away with it. But these birds, he says, are trained to hunt within the confines of the city.

"We could let these two go right now," he says. The pride in his voice is unmistakable. "They\'ll take down crows, pigeons... it\'s pest control, you know. But instead, for now anyway, we walk with them."


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