Traditional hawk trapping thrives in northern Syria’s Raqqa

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – Hawk enthusiasts in Raqqa, Syria start their work in the mild mid-September weather, and continue into December.

In the autumn months, hawk trappers are active across Raqqa, monitoring specific routes that are known by experienced trappers. 

In the wilds of Muaizila, 40 km northeast of Raqqa, northern Syria, Saleh al-Meheid is busy watching his birds, using them as bait to lure a falcon into a trap.

Muaizila is along the migration path of hawks coming from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Mongolia. 

“Falconry is an ancient hobby. It is inherited from fathers and grandfathers,” Saleh al-Meheid, a hawk trapper from Raqqa, told North Press.

“The Aneza tribe is one of the most famous Arab tribes known for their interest in and preservation of the legacy of falconry,” al-Meheid added.

The majority of the trappers in the deserts of Raqqa build camps that contain full equipment and food and drink, in addition to a complete kit for hunting, such as nets, cages, binoculars, and pigeons.  

The hunting method depends on the hunter preparing birds as bait, putting nets on their backs and releasing them when he sees the prized birds in the sky. 

When the hawk pounces on the bait, the nets wrap around its legs, and it falls to the ground, al-Meheid described.

After catching it, the trappers check the birds for any disease, fracture of its wings, or bugs in its feathers and tail.

Then, they are sold through specialized merchants, most of whom are from the town of al-Rahiba in Rif Dimashq, to the princes of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf who are interested in acquiring them.

“Its price differs according to its head, wings, and tail,” said Ibrahim al-Affat, a trapper from Raqqa.

Last autumn, a group of people familiar with this profession formed the Hawks Association in Raqqa, which is an independent civil association whose mission is to introduce the profession and to organize the trappers’ work. 

“This profession is of the kings, princes, and Arab figures in particular,” said Faris al-Horan, founder of the association and one of the sheikhs of the Aneza tribe of Raqqa. 

This year, the association expanded its scope of work, opening two offices in the cities of Tabqa and Qamishli. 

Al-Horan noted that the sky over Syria has three paths which the hawks select during their migration. 

One of these lines starts from Qamishli down to the countryside of Raqqa, then to the deserts of Homs, Damascus, and Mount Hermon, ending in Lebanon. 

The second line starts from the northern countryside of Aleppo and ends in the Syrian interior.

The third line is located in Iraq and heads towards al-Hammad in the Syrian Desert, then south towards Saudi Arabia.   

According to al-Horan, the source of this line is Iran, and the most valuable and rare species of hawk pass through it.

“The price of the most expensive species of the hawk reaches $200,000 and $300,000,” al-Horan said.