Saturday, December 03, 2005


This is a Peregrine Falcon, which is a species that likely doesn't figure in this story. Still it is a raptor - raptor, I take it, is what I would think of as "a bird of prey"…eagles, falcons, owls and such.

Raptors are airborne predators, and perched precariously at the top of a thin food chain, predictably, always at the top of the Endangered Species List.

(Raptors, like all predators, are beautiful, useless and uneatable…much like Art itself).

Raptors fancy waste locales, where they are advantaged against their prey; a lot of space, and you can fly faster than anything runs.

Did I say "precarious"? Raptors come and go. In the natural Cycle of Extinctions raptors, and all predators, chronically pull up the short number, and most of the raptors familiar to humans during the brief time humans have inhabited this planet were due to check out soon…even if humans had never arrived.

Oh, as long as runty little things scurry on desert floors the niche will be filled - variously by insects, reptiles, birds or flying mammals - but particular species rise and fall with (by Darwinian standards) blinding speed, a turnover rate like a hot-sheet motel.

A story going around many Nature and Science blogs - if I understand it, which I probably don't - goes something like this…

Arabs (Saudis and Emiraters) like to hunt with falcons. Understandable, if you need to fetch things on the world's largest parking lot. They like it so much they have created a demand greater than the local selection of raptors can support, and have taken to importing exotics from Mongolia and Siberia.

The international trade in birds is heavily regulated, and the legal availability of birds for export depends on UN determinations of what is "endangered", and what isn't. Some environmental groups claim that raptors in Central Asia are too scarce to support this export demand. Scientists from China, Mongolia, and the former Soviet Republics say different…but then these cash-hungry orphans of bankrupt communism might say that, wouldn't they?

But before you jump in, beware: an illegal trade in birds has been flourishing for decades, and thrives on periodic international embargoes - the price goes up on "black" markets. It is apparent that at least some "environmental" groups have been little more than web addresses for bird-traffickers.

It may well be that a legal trade in falcons could more easily be regulated than an absolute ban.

It may well be also, that avian raptors are doomed in any case, and will only endure as human pets…like dogs, cats, and the prehistoric Gingko trees in Chinese monasteries. Who knows?

Here is one link, to part of the story, which leads to others: Stephen Bodio Blog

Falcons are traditional to the Arabian peninsula and figure, as I recall, here and there in the Quran - NOT recommended…I agree with Carlyle "the most tedious task of reading ever I put myself to" - and another predator/scavenger figures in this charming Manichean hymn from the Old Turkic:

Salvation of the Soul

Like the gray wolf I will follow you;
like the black raven circling the earth.
Like charcoal to the disease,
like the spittle to the whetstone I will be.

You are our powerful and great ruler.
Like gold rounded, like a ball rounded,
you are our glorious wise lord.

And your numerous people
at your wide breast, at your long seam,
you keep and protect, you nurse, take care of.

Raptors - whatever becomes of them - will cast a long shadow over our imaginations.

A version of the above hymn is available at the awesome site Extra Biblical Writings



Blogger David Matthews said...

"(Raptors, like all predators, are beautiful, useless and uneatable…much like Art itself)."

Are you implying that art is useless? If so, by what measure of utility?

8:06 AM  

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