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Eighty birds of prey take flight - on jet to Jeddah

image copyrightAhmet Yasar
image captionThe falcons were reported to be well behaved despite their scant attention to fasten seatbelt signs

A photo of 80 birds of prey on board an airliner in the Middle East has gone viral after being posted on Reddit.

Ahmet Yasar, the businessman who posted the image, told the BBC it was taken within the last four weeks by a friend who works as an airline captain.

Mr Yasar said the falcons were flying to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for what is thought to be a hunting trip.

"The picture was taken on board an Airbus flying from an unknown origin to Saudi Arabia," Mr Yasar told the BBC.

"It is quite common for airlines in the Middle East to transport birds for hunting purposes. In this case each falcon is estimated to be worth about $8,000 (£6,435)," the Turkey-based businessman said.

"The picture I posted has gone viral attracting interest from all over the world," he said. "It is thought the birds were to be used to hunt geese."

Mr Yasar said the airline captain who took the picture did not want to be named.

Welcome on board: Airline policies in relation to birds of prey

  • Qatar Airways: A maximum of six falcons are permitted within economy class. Such is the strength of demand that the airline has a webpage devoted to falcon transportation costs
  • Lufthansa: Announced in 2014 that passengers can take advantage of a patented bird stand, the Falcon Master, which "enables VIPs to bring their falcons on board while keeping them nearby in the cabin during flight"
  • Etihad Airways: First class and business passengers are allowed two falcons per seat, Business Insider reported in 2013, with an extra two birds allowed if an extra seat is purchased. Economy passengers are allowed one bird per seat
  • Emirates: There are no restrictions on the number of pets you can carry on Emirates flights, the airline's website says, although strict rules apply on how they should be caged and on the number of animals some countries will accept

The popularity of hunting in the Middle East was clearly seen in December 2015, when gunmen kidnapped at least 27 Qatari hunters - including members of the ruling family - in a desert area of Iraq near the Saudi border.

Iraq - like Saudi Arabia - is one of several countries frequented by wealthy practitioners of the ancient sport of falconry as they search for prey that either does not exist in their own countries or which has been almost hunted to extinction there.

image copyrightAFP
image captionHunters use falcons (top) to target their prey, such as the Asian houbara bustard (bottom) - here shown during a competition in the UAE

Their favoured prey is the Asian houbara bustard, akin to a small turkey, and to find it and other similar species, Gulf hunters often travel to Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They take with them their prized falcons, typically peregrines, sakers and lanners, which are expertly trained to home in on their quarry at high speed.

Falconry was an important skill for Bedouin hunters in the harsh deserts of Arabia and Syria and has been around for thousands of years.

More on this story

  • How a shy bird became a foreign policy issue