Hunting Houbara: Royal Kidnap Casts Spotlight on Gulf ‘Sport of Kings’

JFIF;CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 80 C   %# , #&')*)-0-(0%()(C   ((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((( " }!1AQa"q2#BR$3br %&'()*456789:CDEFGHIJSTUVWXYZcdefghijstuvwxyz w!1AQaq"2B #3Rbr $4%&'()*56789:CDEFGHIJSTUVWXYZcdefghijstuvwxyz ?1N{7SF(PK\QJ1N.(SF)QӱF=)Q)n(4(01N.(;1F)Rb1@ .)أ(b(Z1@ 4csF(i13c~)q@֌S1@ Q~8Qxb]ݾ^AV&f .c xk0B"A5Jڍ'QxS~cFqpMsC089sFY_?,rJA$2slP%\#WijM*#N `?gM@$K(N]{ڪ$8ho4.1M*cw " %n!?;Qp6t]Z}>;\zjT,sCq nxʼW^*E(=Mk ҎT-O{>- d[pK,ȲF! skŅZ]RnC?tC'Cs&z(RWӮ&0}n6]01NF(Rb .)h"ALR(#qF9bPq)ؤ!EI~)I~;Rb4bLR?G1O&(N#֌P&1Hh@ 1N\S1@ .1N֗QHR@ ǵ?LS.)qKv((P1\PqF)cn(R1NSF8bQ(?bъ}&)(?xPE LSF)f=?bzF)Rbwp~;fһ8י?t.gn>> 3IX}mGQg9v,k1[^6R䍑"oOtq#iZqj!5$Pu g+WژX6i\4Wq4.?tuRx}h #+XC4$!,$]*]ul UfRȠ@Yʎ}_^LR9˓"Ը.Y\ɪޢ.0=TAqTv9 !8?OC^k6կja'S{΋.;mk]HmTaUF(ϡ1A$YXQ0>ƤvqIyvGjqbqHiQn))إ3N&(v(7b8b)"1ӱIn)1Odx;RzbI01NRO=icLSHGhb v)qY#;bQZhS@)qN4PqI~(3P1Kv)q@c1O"(sF)n(b f1ڗQhP?Qf?:\SAn(4Rh?cf(?b1F(~)171I3b1@bSAıL#K3 xMsRݹ2V$~5|VԤMOO+EX1#nrGo\xRfd{YQ>e#NZv /qZ /Zk(`I(P7jCfrbǚmTQE6r8;:vx4[$S]I})!@7Ns֥Aiq]|?6m_*U۲WK'$[XZPBbB(TQlyi)HC)1O41F)bQpZ1O"@7⟊LP{RSHE0NbGLSIRQN4cH4);bi!ԘHE`Њhx_EDJ猜W&|09}O-F=@O,ϵݺ'Nz3Lf$H4㍹FP@vҒBQERQJY$PRO@MlZ̀D_ƴ#H#MVy27ImnJ"p t uF p*.c a22:a+߄M| |?O?T0\ԴoaP ~4FĘmJ t=D4B)yf>do)Gq4_]yS+v9N~(6#5x]dCєhb7cv(0h;c3b0(Rb &)2SI7NPqIyqN&(!)(PE?&(Qbi(dbi)ғ!SF*PIbSF(R❊1@ PqJ;b)1@ SKf(qF8@RP)إ3bPq@QhQf(>Qf)qNQNhn(#~)1@ F)PE?b1Ob( 1O&(osD; ?)1JIIY8?x7Tn\nZ>tjYp@H9R+ҹk._h,SՌ+\+:%?,#Vm"f ޺/R(8ęTQ?`~Cָn W5nuURY=_ҦR/J؆g*30U t}5,La>Ÿoio-My5 |'+[wQUg}?B;Ud&M@gRE0yrt<гn?1TNBTv- RSw`s GvOHOwFWlz!?*ԙM[t5jg*iAiڅ9Sj|.ń =z7 Kmd,ÄoVѨLRPAR2KkBN&(IqF)ԘڝތP11NE3bEf(RwbP1ӱF(Qf) w!5޵(pf9H7ZaUu$0:PCOQ̘1_4m./" C)Ozp"BTmlO(/ZsK*1H UCUnhG*jf Wv qM2ܡ EHEmp1Q5F(iph]VIB_F{߄Ek-8O 2,D=s/Zuj)whXpz0 kJ.c*[IbVO5]~Olvȸzzǭv1Kwj1@ "SH34QC#⟊Lf P1F) E柊LP1AbԄSȤ4(HEGB*LR@8SF*3f)q;b18jZhb\PqF)Q~(f(?b.)z!Q7b\P!;b1NS01O1F) n(8 1@ SYkTzӤ-䴀6OA PE;bLSF("bQf*[U-#xLI'懊!-U cu;ar2 ^u{Ʃ{=Uyi\qPrey4'IZ!u.\fK] X IƒQ2i'ñ;ܓҘgc֢a#R;n[50`N| bx~oFaViي\qJ0zs1]&#qF){PqI)Qn)1O&(bAcbLSIn)1O4)J "EJG Q~(;n3@Zxp#(QJwʹbǵ1RތQp1RbQq SF(Ԙm SK`0 1OhP?@ƁF)Q~8Q~(7P1F)\!g`I<\f+rgWl GԎ=6I X)(fM 3:kx_kR܂j,1'lܒz4);$m YBl{k # 8Z~KH SZFCg9^ȢKMʸ AGQ=Og=[֨ǃt۩ r1YI\r?t3 unԜnw`?s]pwg<դQ)Q#1A8@3Q,pDj2Y>&CЮZo[(%#}떟 ҲM DNFbZMgž-<[P)XT죟_9|Qx0edt+uyuZS,wvIn޸J4gdL pj ޕ^yw bj5 f5cE#2ܸ=98j.2c( e&z4ˋ6I"du?u>}'^UX# 1=Z x*$M.܍x21rHUܗ%7Ւ*K `Xgcy_'@X%ʯ%踮jG-Gy F+C1PE; R-KpX/ 1(YhVFPS?3@+NzYJ[>.t}JVđWpklrcHN@M;;ZOF}9j֙ f9+u?JxGÏR +\gڽd # s+j 5FC4As4242+㗑98*PvC gZAwhywvKzVw-!n6)'y` `.Plvj] xulгa"z^{/ZD2)<^p6،N~¼c^sy>xa-yǨ^&T`;]{s`x:PthtOkq̧"D{Q34Q(6;%n?zY~KV""_m\M^GprMSg@qޥsY֑udE{ŽO+֡ H2IXԷq؄C+6Lj##8# )E%7i(GZJ)h(((QN%bRIIBm2ɏZpER5JB4w'ߍOӊk[Bܩ<N$wU(?5 *MCbHǽ@S1HUCJD>Q< 3ױ vH E1əb\/x"eOlhZ֓{ գ|0`CWN|S9Ǚh}KB+#šmV?,۸9c)ؤ7QO!f}%7&("1@ &)4aqIaIobSF?:b.)أn)q8怰Q~(4 \RKn)qN1N.(;b1NQ~(aR‰Qv(s)5HDZ˗eR( ۫ GX5HfioE'=>kij,v).O`;_-xrP?[m:"ExUA@qXW5V屒OzYrG:Vcɨ384LRP*'5΄.ڇ9[R`X{ Yg#/Q恑ipjP(JR)*Zh=4qV#Ul@2Hj`&*4ti)0 (RS5N).鞴,ŽؾtC:qTmy<+B&ʧgZ=Sx~=WF`ڮ  qW:wVn # AzMIfH.gP#z u3*m2bP/t^w*,l/'.q+(*~Ws6F"bIW|RE&8?A3K$9R3tS{wz*Dk w՚49唑o .r@-%heYk'VFkuħ5_a#sjMN4qAz ͖Wؚͻ1^4Ȍn>B.r8*~>Ҫԁ9Dž'6o ?~5QvWe_x"ŗ-˵B<ۆ*}Ǧi4 &5ҕI en:WZViGg@[05-L5'ݺ4TxkyB2p8TҌơflI9U08~sVUr(-)^i=7jY8c4l< xuS&K@GETRQ@ E|dga⒞Ne )lRȸ9t*H`t4;:lJ##4|SA\]GE#458Pg4SCiݨHf0(O]5G5kbbccMm9W2Տ`'9a`ѺV=)WYRvhiIB{o»lW]rf(Cҫշ=pu gȫTP*&\VT1Q9!ڢ4) uSHZOB %XAWc (-%RQL8:m(9IL( F0pQ4y=PJ %%+\sڛNVzRT QB`N$9 9T 5"pH=)FLJQOzvaQ_E#~(^=ǨV\鷰Jb#G>ͪ沼)ǯ6Cip־+M&)ؠ.qHE;Qv(3SHhӈ3bIRbS .)ؠ LQv(b\S(;b 1Nb)أ\Sh 4b1E7bLQpǦWw:"A>\p8jY {WΟ|~5ΕH!l[RUEo NY'ԧi畲XzYT;G@ƚϓT`s?S\Mݝi[AFμ;tc6aEd-ZT*vg*1\A)DacJNPu-NÝ'jha2Ns[|x9M3x:HԏW*!/S]i/_M֭X$rć W {X ~(Ҽ-a^c.%IҾt}kI iwEði'83! d#Xuv)1]'5!bґAE%;`7E&1Ho֞E6E:E{RbE+gސ ]\,Ra1F)hppKZ\Qp1N\,&(;bQp1N2yc"E,2M6x{.w׍Tz|y"8"ԠV_-È̜2xVerya9"4^ZGO3PiȑxC%YEb3֥6)]Fnu Be9WR~]Eq:\6Tl#%pzd\S[H&#܊ }M>gܛ+m]59f^irT%'`5"d-֨#ẏo¸6!ɍ_CC:\DBʀzbfM2:T(*GX 0c ?Jv 3QS8YCqޡ[yw]NzWD[J@7Q4 xn #,Lεk Vb+X9'*Wwʔڣr}1:u @&$.>O#qֺO T^X_h;vLĞZA^ނ/W]ŝbI=]Gjf굯>:+tմ&<䚬fZk'D@c8-9n;cq< wՑ\C `(ǹ(eXՑЭ%Usr|U Za˱'o>дQJ(P)qN`WGj),-QE`Z.(XJi wN;7^~z_(~.kqFu| [,m̅dJK*1WZ/X7q'ُgY[snڣI_|q=k׾/i~ЭݓoX8W:. J-?ICzܓ{ͮc-FtQ>z~ '2RY=Ǣe?䌹& ;]K`3ۜևtXi^I :O]l:R|'nH '/nh;h n{o Ao1GQ& Z]\qjRs$ Q[3v)n>xܝD?難"k: .TW;>?' ;9KFY݂dh ԌWZ,@XY't29%p WOPJ7K9G52E6|4ǫ154nUyvzfs'>?MS\"Ү,N@nic<(Q OlKb8qҾׇ|s8[EG\v|z֤"\=2c?<}: `[ꅞ\Hb)~ a'\("UzӍ%U%!4\ HxZ> FV HƝ3I>s~ W#?NzW~"mKY~ɖ>s+JJk W>-bX֯| 3JZiу;ܰoA;~G" nz 9;'׹zOjK#OCTg`SU#V?6ZoMy~g9"HNG-'gƺ]])p>f-ýOY)ෂ+! lp8~uzE:^icj%3Ԁ1V(mZ)(V (eq_&jcmԋq_R|chJX#*?_.>l+$tM)S ,bTEٻ5ύtEJ!Nגv-g@*hW?맮G␸_ 42][\`${3UxJn59)ʷNdEb?^-$-[N<OK&Y.s,-v9?5ZvAbN?\O&FE'M ڪPZI,v9֨4# ;SNѰN)MFEG# V<$$vsoκ x'_Ze<(skNkIךk[Yүtƶ;%RJt9P ڡnx`D=)4SLJ(`-R(GZZ%0 (Q@Q@Q@Q@Q@RSF325nxoB׵(LQܓP߃<9uMf+U $rk}L{ $+}O>沼[O +mn?c,ccz׏2nTgy.mzĦLc޸e+򞈲ۄy`IӭiY^O*&N=+#C{sl|J$W)܊wL_;w+nB2qGbKcC,],ĂOSU{Gy-,Ǧj=Bm!'7n<ҲsE?s/=X,Sgp3oʪ|Hksxk*1bO ~ )kѧMSV9E-%dRQ@ KJ( *w6l&ycLOUZ[]`@BWwuG8g\1}Jze/Xlk~}\E2A~T9^&žXǗn=?>¼7ek;wA'N@}k"ͿH`_9ӓܚ.e3y]A_zZ >}k]E&k~.NB]'B_S )ȷ/;+gV.+.+ AC^k\7R\H~yګnexkU^i2Ol$H3x[LK=*AJF^StQB#o7mo5َ@MJ9zZD[ n2W!K܉tem}SUbnrK⅓Vշ@7* rsz/;hbH`Bh0VpqBAUT`(DОW<e4>Y ٟucWHBsfE-GCW LzRe-ΠEBޮ>\ NP/p> På;XTQMQEHQ@Q@ ڒ(((((((#LhIj[=FǛ9!@5C٤sPWMs!Gs8yk4 +hcp\|J,k8;h(p0-w^'az;^*i:@;]Aߚ5|/GnY\9/+ d:Ξ%k\QMe֬*.9Vx f_?ET'W7$pw|WRFgH yW"I2\J ǧLbwwcJKܹbau? 1cRbNrMrA4Db$3Wih1ҹiÚLrS&ǒCN5 z,[Ef\s#0‚zիٍäH"pR% 88֓VdlQ"EBxOLL>L:5RU-MNK4,ZAb=R+TR:=*~.u-Coi^0} HҰ: ۬S[6KUjİ:X\h[Xeb2WC`-n؋6E ñz4 sJbyʑcw;5zSU$*Mu6cYh4FafX*9Ǡ@KH-"'kFOa,G,T4yd|i+M1.{ p_<~U0ncWWgkmy˿:$׹.̥3)hn.m"Vg|(%'Xko[Iha ;1Rkj~4ҭ, ʾ޿*FrH̊2?OT<}nXn=i骩)o7STownH(ă]kxciCֹ]W)0O}gέ]¡@px;]$GSUwfN3WeH}i8*(-J;cV5(sJTܚ_o MqiIByNr2kfR%s~#[EeBP׿_1\I8Q~x_M֫;UDV*1rkLخ&BY>Ha ccV2M1^ N&;f=aƼž$,koy}Q2x}k$q¡@Gk  DP$<'Mi,'m#BA4̑@; 5UYIg\IrN94R2m.(5fmf;/<2in!B.#we^}3~3D/˚<Gŗ;u-ˏ=&{c0F d\ydld1~ڧsrs Ow ^3FtlKtˑzkF4?_Wi~mn-ᶍB mvTJ ޡ&^|)fhyVryy{Zm{j!7H :#-gqѲ}ڽQkMcփu638d8⩾'tLN'hkj4a@}ZC@6B0QU*XmTrUXγ*x4\IO,r9((@QEQEQEQEQEQK@ EJļ }hc%)9%y*H|-ƹbPrk |W1M}$oHp+:R5:bg0/FxƸAW14@x+#!$˨)^:hjjCs{iCr?CzDPn0^+ln{סd wgJRM|/iRܱ/5ߝDT6}׈, Y~0/ m0Q+ *#ֻ- e˓SF⩮ wGuĞ(mFI̪ѓ?mE`m3 ]+U/;;Nwc'[26 ۜs5o cb~kKQƛBЁ-ip0}P:Ҝ/xQ&FUd\z⺙wZ% ?*͹.+Q1YsOsYm$&B67UtV-M s,FG\u5*oMdۨiK9NDӯ8gc՝sZq.Tz l?pWF혭- -[-]6.4-A1VHAv3S7VRB1hoB0qSwRo>xfWm.YR~]xI!ov}ǽ.Tv`zGҦvS OUm#=Upksśv [aSL%qlFMq햦]5#o;A֟VEۓ0$AsQu?S"mi3ӌVG9m@Ň|Rb%"ֹ*I:s$&ì44X>fcOҾ|>}Mzkf> i0B8n$ZhEFGV+g=ܻ}- r6s\i+HzW5F+r:^9Fֵ8$YƲ#H?j9|R׼PZ̖S>~f\|5xXEwR( \gUOyҤ]BξN<X)c>VѴMZ|F8CHG2S[{XB XxsNG49{_Ҹ߆5Z)h\cץBR6)1Gf8.IU􆇣ZkgG}O湥^4ա4s~'[tt#=smZ`r Ȫ0zku,Cmc`"u*E?7sXS"墲>ssIcqQ+dt׳|mnjkX"TH㱮o:>7-V{It%M@9>j>IZ̫jwsi5uܘ=z#[rY +|ScOou5!~UX|n?+}EyōZM#V!ScaԢK]UkdSbiQ[d6ζqi"- >d⺽T/(ζTd(/@]tiZ9/! Iop]X^ k5PIR0+o _@XV21w$)~쮎3O4zeG0Qǒ}W-ճ=}ˈP=񕝎I- $⸉uM>;[)a=njNܨ Fs^o:~5΁"I+3{q^W{R\W7'ه Pq՘]"?VĆS 0{e)((((((((QK18 @Ki%(bz^|7KIqt>|tn|/Nu4)%#{7}Z|2Zs%C* H}LC +YheR/@湯kz'$ZMM!%|{\ j$}P~q4裀+hSs[#g?dY"Br1>>v}4)8P|ֶҠ3T\~OޭfQuAMۙ>seM+*Fͅ`A_Kˣ tv`JCl1Sp8WZ|.4/YC+zIԝ[<=~f}х tr(inw01W-__"R~D :eF{@X` 83ZR?_ϩx$1 )ux{A,0AP;x$h [*ϊ @@%cHܷ8mP3 0q⦷%R6dqT'XNp*'b vv\Y$LVy麽 |qyf%]؍5pw3%h5i*?7hщw$kx"}  x}]‘Zr7-]dF3Nj**/SWHiuV'xs}P2|Mizd0v?5yˢޤF.6{QneiI|85l^I!i'#ϼNLGq]oc(&iM}_8ݻWCǤ5$z?J?caY,_R}>%xt8SvoՈ}O$k-3_-ǵJ.-TpGۺk[yZi {^k&g.gbH& ܌e=;xCU qze5mȺSa5ndjE/!U=vIδ"•^Y4>[ۥlXu ~G]0G.L,RT^_Rjwh,RZi3Rv8Vl|^Mź[.dr*x#:\> sYp`ôX4]f+v;%<_pFÞ {5Xlsiykmifzdj򌌃5eS[ZXvhȯ<,MWͣV(ԧ#!GSVl9/eEAul=`|Cc'1S&B.1Ͻ|nُ֤}Vp(}t꽤Xj7귭\=Ppsw)ԭ;+/+ԏ6)ڰzou=PmtupO9H+>&DH哪W̫ RO^}j>a50j.!Ay䈯&;E䱯~$k.28R1BOC*=j>i\هRL̬lQg+sN<]Ê@ntfYd#o8J5gk*i.k *>湊Xc;6䲜;gI5.`iwv =My%:6ǷJ,֕p/s*I\nϢujx>Z mu=)dX#TSjwp|g9&4k6/R Q\+,gUS'"I'XkZaɦwf ^y}:ekdmˏX~buiBʠ/$ϧtR1O Z_f% k>?krHBr}UO)V}9CR$rKLv b\T G wӞ旺-i$+1?Y:(T*3?NkRi[d}+QҴ-u{yu4\I Aĉ!KS叡kɏtq[w]i*MK0sMYpcVO-i"ªtHK^ 󯃤V"2̌0TX($2j%WIpt-j 3o<OK430DZ<&קdyHHM1ug Oj] JO^4@+GpZ4S@$tds__\^=̲K4/$YjRnMRII+JM!+n1KIP0iu {D:@D)(>niZz@`@rz fC}2-?O4f=_p~+v8 SP'gsί Fr<)]sZP!$(;rz7@Xo?SS|mbXMFK:0zcPuFTLY$b,{榫qX]Ԯrg= AAp@AO=ض& X/IcU[SQ{%UU9@'g8v Jol mꖠhIdH%.)IܖwwZUں"px*٣v3,ڦ+a;!-GWqrd?PS?;!]WRC[ڳe[ &CdsWch"apvƁ;gUcE.ȴndcR_𪹠1+"dkYeTP~? M64H5 3=)Xef*TYK£Kwl]=8R: 2&osLf sShj9V|S d>5yc$.?җX@oL17SP2Ρ!{A+VϛluVDBoFRѐ8!L5L2v8dCgSY";J=)9t2 C c|sۑV *cTr@Q$,P}EOho:`€:0ӹc`@5UXZƭ4ց@H򏔗rGePt }P!lzc_«,ϟ=T@NњO/O,|M0$}(pO@E (Vm#'b*{޼xI]{pGw?qYG)(~Qg;5V >SQ0 "0V ԾA^iOq$FF:;J|6*0,w)HYc4Kr lW N{ `H$P~\r9Јzd"n@r4݊wt59qcL{bw`{R**uXD¸?!J e}XRQ:"lvZb2>7Ѿՠo8r(XM`e^H_giEK#'?8Ó#Tu?0V⪬oΦ2sAeY| Oد1W".3 rFsx"Hp* VLRn q!uܒ~R<T`j\JNⵄhAe>ͷExV#6>' + GF:SYĊ?ݦyB1jXSGXfп4aԫ$䃕joҔ8*>l~#< FMy$0g&X@ l 5(/ )I8…F=W5 S8eb@4ѱSږ Ҁ+G(H$4k}j:b1+I:0D\a>fil`(ATd'~3JD[FcNkN[H7;[ׅ֕'2:wse1THR~s%$f[sQKcQm)0*?hex/ ɠ{ F0j;'NG*Er^*.Z@͞p)+(#p1Td@@昈bpD׭ 5UobG`)Bv`UZC`5Cs-ĉ`hI9|KF?E% mE k'Ș~4 z5џ,(95AǚHɧ'sևKG8"hê~b pޥ`i cdR%'6ҕFң~TFS?[ QKJR m//ʐ ꆀ#d$14}= N S#S3Vbڿ2+$E30V pjDE\9&ݍޝF %\.) )0*QVwl~Avh-L p+N7\@ًɩ"I~=jB\v.6~Uɠ⻟jgNIQPbD'< J9rfd@j7T;Jj@Y\ƽAֹr*Vgg_JfR1}(sNHiC-0ΥNn'H HJc^7>j"ۇ5'i*Zzqš` Iz("NjY7,w7 1l?e?MW)/ۚʟ0`nON'њ]ɨP bЭFTR ~<+ ,11R~aS8o=.BAҞUq SP"9`@֊[%j83P$i'E[H)25tIb7+Tb?f?iQ*#"ã ی-0D`Er&cG!9enDSbo96q7".Wkwqѓڝ瓜daP0B}h7&I@w$tJ0{Ҏ"*O BČqi`AmPjo;{4iqKR; E-BqD2k-FeHLڃӅlnE?yB"{dbjt&*S4<5#+ZTG#;9 P1xC[Z6'fAkT!i.'V 4Z<! \ ;.,=!f(3e@ʊ>\(4Àq1?}5aYT1O4\N,nFzSoiÓe)K<{#ui4@s֚r: qGE"Xgk@=EFPhSdtJtE+rh&ĬOܨF2c$62iE5u,I+cn*O&2zT 1|mȪsK2UAS0$f9ҞVhc#pU{w!Z*:E>ΜaW@S[ t&oό'z`GZę8,\2p$w e"YBi#a~9 w@A梖VR}*êRAZVyĒrO5~"6 Օףw$M`Tc om"${RcH-W`2 8P6^ 4O*A  &e 0*֠R1_*U,Q`2d4keFT/k /J*E",ѴxïP= qQ4Rc֖+UY 4QR n=Eє6c+69ȢC Warning: fopen(https://newsweekme.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-02-10T060751Z_220896695_GF10000289324_RTRMADP_3_QATAR-HUNTING-780x439.jpg): failed to open stream: HTTP wrapper does not support writeable connections in /home/newsweekme/public_html/wp-includes/class-wp-image-editor.php on line 428

The head of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund has told U.S. officials it will invest $10 billion in infrastructure projects inside the United States, sources said, in an apparent boost to the economic plans of president-elect Donald Trump.

By Tom Finn

DOHA, Feb 10 – Every year the houbara bustard, a rare desert bird whose meat is prized by Arab sheikhs as an aphrodisiac, migrates from Central Asia to the far reaches of Iraq and Pakistan in search of a mild climate and a place to breed.

Its arrival sets off another migration—as scores of wealthy Gulf Arabs descend on Iraq to hunt the bird with trained falcons through the winter months.

But the kidnapping of 26 Qataris in December in the Iraqi desert while hunting, including members of the country’s royal family, has highlighted the risks of pursuing the “sport of kings” at a time of heightened regional turmoil.

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, which happened in a region dominated by Shiite Muslim militia.

But what is clear is the immense wealth of Qatar and the Doha government’s past successes in freeing political prisoners in war zones has made its own citizens prey to those seeking to raise money or exploit the Gulf state’s diplomatic clout.

“The kidnapping of the Qatari hunters dealt a painful blow to the reputation of all the southern areas of Iraq,” said Abdul Rahman Hammoud, chief of the Iraqi Hunters Association in Samawa, where the Qataris were kidnapped.

“We are a tribal community and Gulf hunters are our guests. After the abduction, not a single hunter from the Gulf is coming to Iraq anymore, fearing from being kidnapped. It will take a long time to repair the damage and convince Gulf hunters to resume their Iraq trips,” he told Reuters.

It is perhaps the world’s most elaborate blood sport— cargo planes fly tents, luxury jeeps, and falcons worth hundreds of thousands of dollars into custom-built desert airstrips.

Mega-rich owners often keep their falcons in vast air-conditioned rooms and free-flying aviaries, and use helium-filled balloons and drones to train them at higher altitudes.

Local communities can benefit from the hobby, which has for decades seen Arab elites channel cash—via hunting permit fees and jobs—into remote corners of the Middle East and beyond.

To curry favor with local communities whose land they descend upon to pursue prey, the Arab hunters have also built roads, schools and mosques in places like Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and Afghanistan’s Helmand, while residents also benefit from the international-standard airstrips that can spring up.

New four-wheel drive vehicles brought in for the hunting season are left behind as gifts for local leaders.

But critics say that hunting with falcons, a practice Arab nomads used to survive life in the desert, is today a reckless hobby that threatens the houbara, a dwindling species, and funnels money into areas controlled by militias.

UNDER ATTACK

The tradition of falconry is thought to date back thousands of years in the Middle East, and for centuries nomad hunters relied on falcons.

But rapid urbanization and population growth, fueled by the discovery of oil, swallowed the desert breeding grounds and habitats of falcons and their prey.

In the 1960s, falconers began to extend their hunting grounds into Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as countries like Azerbaijan, Mauritania and Morocco, to hunt in areas that cover thousands of square miles.

“It is dangerous,” said Mohammed Al Khater, a student at Qatar University who trains and breeds falcons in his spare time. “The hunters fly into hotspots because it’s where you find the most prey. It’s a risk—but then, it’s their passion.”

But the hunts have proved divisive.

The global houbara population is estimated at between 79,000 and 97,000, according to BirdLife International which lists the bird as “vulnerable”. It says the population has declined by a third or more over the last 20 years due to hunting and habitat loss.

A ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year banning hunting of the houbara—after complaints from conservationists that the bird was at risk of extinction—was overturned last month when the government argued it damaged relations with Gulf states, key investors in the country.

A senior Saudi prince and his entourage killed 2,100 houbara over 21 days during a hunt in 2014, according to an official report leaked to Pakistani news media.

Hunters say they breed houbara to replace those they kill and complain that the royal visits are being unnecessarily politicized.

Farooq Al-Elji, a falconer who works for the Al Gannas Society, a Qatari association of hunters, defended the practice.

“These people are falconers, you cannot take that away from them. Even if you take the trips away it is in their personality. Every human emotion is connected to being a falconer. It’s very deep-rooted,” he said.

“It’s a traditional trip, they like to maintain it to recapture the mood of being a survivor in the desert. That’s the beauty of it, it’s a wonderful vacation for them.”

But the vacation is over for now, at least in Iraq.

In the wake of the kidnappings, Colonel Mahmoud Abbas at Iraq’s interior ministry said Gulf citizens would no longer be able to secure visas “until further notice”.

Social Streams

Comments

comments

Facebook Comments

Post a comment