By Suryatapa Bhattacharya
Prized in Arab culture as a bird that teaches its master patience, endurance and self-reliance, the falcon's history in the Gulf dates back thousands of years.
But a growing number of people eager to pursue these hunting roots has led to the poaching of threatened birds in the Middle East, conservation groups fear.
Some species of falcon such as the saker are now considered endangered and the number of houbara bustards, the quarries or targets for falcons, is also declining.
Experts said the extent of poaching taking place in countries such as Iraq and Iran was hard to pin down but they feared the problem was significant.
"Nobody really knows, and it is extremely difficult to determine how big the problem is," said Nigel Collar, an expert from BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservationists. "The trade is widespread and we think it is a widespread problem."
Loss of habitat and hunting have thinned the houbara bustard's population by a quarter in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa in the past two decades. But Dr Collar said that, so far, there was only anecdotal evidence to suggest illegal trading.
"Falcons are for profit - they sell them at a considerable profit. But the hunting of houbaras is a sport," he said. Typically, the hunting season for houbara in the Arabian Peninsula begins in October, when the birds migrate for the winter from Central Asia into Iran and Iraq. More....