|HUNTING WITH BIRDS OF PREY.|
AMONG the animals that man has in different periods of history forced to serve his purposes, none are now so much neglected in western lands as birds of prey. These creatures, however, at a time which is not yet far away from us, constituted the essential factor of falconry, which was a few centuries ago held in the highest honor. This sport, although it has fallen into decay in Europe, is still practiced in northern Africa and some parts of Asia, chiefly central Asia. Having had occasion to indulge in it much on my own account in both these regions, I am able to speak from personal experience of the manner in which it is practiced there. Falconry in Africa, where it has come down from the Arabs of the middle ages, has been described many times, especially from the picturesque point of view. I shall speak especially of the sport in central Asia, where, while it is less known to Westerners, it is practiced more perfectly than in any other country. It has entered completely into the habits of the people, and it is not there, as in Africa, limited to a small number of wealthy proprietors.
The exhibition at Tashkend in 1891 included a department of the chase, in which the most distinguished falcon teams of Turkistan figured prominently. The Khan of Khiva was an exhibitor, and was represented by his best birds and his most skillful falconers. Instead of allotting the prizes, according to the most usual plan, to the best-looking birds, matches were instituted and the relative merit of the competing birds was determined by the test of what they could do. I had an opportunity on this occasion to make a thorough study of the technical details of a sport which I had already practiced under different circumstances.
Such large birds as the eagle are trained for falconry in Turkistan, and are used for the capture of foxes, gazelles, antelopes, and even, it is said, deer. They are so heavy that the falconer is not able to carry them on his arm alone, and has to support it on a wooden prop, the base of which is attached to his saddle.
According to the Arabian traditions, the training of the falcon to hunt was first accomplished by an inhabitant of Mosul; but the training of the eagle has been practiced by the Chinese and the Mongols from an antiquity much more remote than the Arabian period, and falconry was probably introduced into Turkistan from the north of China, and then into Persia, perhaps by some Hunnish people.
Falconry is so deeply established in Turcoman life that people in modest conditions and even children engage in it. A favorite