Strong-hearted and focused may not be the words to describe five-year-olds, but that couldn’t be said for Shehanah Daifallah Al-Enezi when she began falconry. Now nine, the Saudi falconer has made a name for herself not only because of being young in a daring sport but also by participating in the King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival (KAFF). Organized by the Saudi Falcon Club upon directives from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the club’s supervisor-general, KAFF is Saudi’s biggest falconry racing event. The most junior partaker at the race’s fourth edition, Al-Enezi was one of more than 1,000 competitors from around the world, including Germany, Russia, Syria, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
The falconer is also featured in a new documentary titled Wild Allies. Currently streaming on National Geographic Asia YouTube, it highlights the journey of the Kingdom’s most dedicated falconers alongside the KAFF in December 2020.
We caught up with Al-Enezi to learn more about her dedication to the sport of falconry.
How did you get into falconry? Was it passed on to you by your family?
I began falconry when I was five years old as I grew up in a family that loved falcons and loved training them. I’ve had a fascination with falcons since I was a child, and I used to watch my father and brothers care for and train them with zeal.
Who are your biggest motivators?
I became interested in falconry after seeing my father and brothers participate. At the time, it felt challenging because it was restricted to men, but my father motivated me to understand this art and I went through many training exercises to learn the methods of professionally dealing with falcons.
What do you love the most about the sport?
I enjoy spending time with falcons in general and taking care of them. Dealing with falcons requires a strong heart that is not afraid of this type of bird, as it is considered ferocious and dangerous if not handled right. The peregrine falcon is my favorite because it is the fastest animal on earth, with a top speed of 350km per hour, and able to track prey at the speed of a Formula 1 race car as far as a mile away.
How much time do you spend training?
Leadership is the most important thing you need to practice. The falconer must be willing to put in the time and effort expected to be responsible for the falcon. As a result, I dedicate most of my time to training, because raising falcons requires constant attention, and they cannot be left alone for long periods of time.
What do you find in common with your falcon?
The falcon is a brave, jealous, and friendly bird with pride that is dear to the soul. These are their main characteristics. Each of these qualities affected me and taught me courage, strength, and tenderness, especially with how I deal with the falcon itself, as it is a very intelligent bird that requires a thoughtful approach.
What are some of the things falconry has taught you?
I have learned strength, courage, pride, loyalty, unity, and confidence from the falcons. The art of falconry is an ancient cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations, and we treasure it for its profound meanings. It has deep meanings and a rich cultural heritage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
What is the best part about competing in the King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival?
It was an honor to be a part of this competition because it provided an opportunity to learn about the experiences and stories of falconers, as they compete to win the competition.
What are the challenges you face as a young falconer and how do you overcome them?
The most difficult challenge I faced was competing in the King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival against a big group of professionals who were much older than me. I managed to come in 11th place, which was a huge honor for me.
Do you see yourself continuing this art as you grow older?
This is a hobby that I will pursue for the rest of my life because it is my passion.
What are your wishes for your country on Saudi National Day?
On this happy occasion, I pray to God to preserve and protect my country, and I hope that its good and generous people will always be united. I am proud to be a Saudi and I wish my beloved country a happy National Day.