A man in a white thobe (similar to a robe or kaftan) and a red-and-white checkered Shemagh (headdress) stands tall against a tawny desert background with a regal falcon perched upon his wrist: It might be one of the most vivid images that comes to mind when you think of Saudi Arabia. The sport of falconry is, after all, a deep-rooted part of traditional Saudi culture. “Arabs used to use the falcon for hunting, and now owning falcons is a hobby,” says Tariq Alsalamah, operations manager of Alboraq Destination Management & Travel Company. “Saudis feel very proud when they own falcons, due to their strong qualities.”
Aside from setting records, the 2019 festival also marked the beginning of a new era: Saudi falconer Adhari Al-Khaldi became the first woman to participate. While she always had her husband and family’s support, Al-Khaldi had to overcome many obstacles in a sport that’s long been entirely male-dominated. But with barriers being broken down all across the kingdom, Al-Khaldi and her falcon joined the 400-meter Al-Milwah competition. In the process, she’s paved the way for a new generation of female falconers, who can finally consider transforming their passion into a profession.