Sustainable use and the harvesting of wild Saker Falcons
‘Sustainable use’ is a concept that is frequently misunderstood and misused in today’s society. ‘Sustainable use’ means activities, which use or extract a natural resource in such a way that the activity does not affect the continued existence of the resource in question nor inhibit the future of its exploitation by humans.
The human use of wild falcons for falconry has a long tradition and is part of the cultural heritage of many nations. Nevertheless, to many people (especially in Europe) the human-use of wild falcons is abhorrent and they oppose falconry on animal welfare or animal rights grounds. Others only oppose the use of wild-caught birds in falconry on conservation grounds. The idea that wild-falcons can be taken and used for falconry on a sustainable basis is fundamentally opposed by these people. Not all conservationists are opposed to sustainable use of falcons, and see potential conservation benefits that can arise from this practice. (See Dr. A Lombard’s article on the ‘Sustainable harvest of wild raptors by falconers: A practical exercise in sustainable use to encourage conservation’ in FALCO 31). Benefits could accrue from payments for trapping permits that are used to fund conservation programmes or to monitor wild populations. Furthermore, financial rewards to impoverished local communities provide an incentive to maintain healthy habitats for the species and to protect local populations.
To ensure that a harvest is sustainable it is vital to have models that predict population response to the harvest (Kenward et al., 2007). These are essentially based on mortality, productivity and age-specific survival rates. Following the analysis of such models we can begin to determine quotas, which are deemed ‘sustainable’. In the case of the Saker Falcon, where sustainable harvest models are implemented, this may facilitate both securing a wild population for falconry harvest, and simultaneously the conservation of Sakers in the wild so that the resource remains extant for human use. In the USA there has recently been a review of the potential impact of a Peregrine harvest for falconry (see Millsap and Allen, 2006).
An alternative to harvesting an unmanaged wild population is to manage the wild population to increase productivity, which can then be harvested. Ongoing work is being undertaken to develop methods of increasing Saker Falcon productivity in nest-site limited steppe habitats, which in turn would determine sustainable quotas for harvesting Saker Falcons in Mongolia. Through an experimental study using artificial nest sites in Mongolia, EAD-funded research has discovered that individuals from a surplus non-breeding population of Saker Falcons can be encouraged to settle and breed (see FALCO 32, Page 8). This additional productivity can compensate for a harvest of juvenile birds in the same area during the autumn.
If demand for wild-caught Saker Falcons can be met by a sustainable, regulated legal trade then there would be a much diminished demand for smuggled falcons that are trapped illegally.
Kenward, R., Katzner, T., Wink, M., Marcstrom, V., Walls, S., Karlbrom, M., Pfeffer, R., Bragin, E., Hoddler, K. and Levin, A. Rapid sustainability modelling for raptors by radiotagging and DNA fingerprinting. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71(1), 238-245.