Photography Contest Ignores Cruel Reality of Falconry

The IPPA Grand Prize imagery ignores the cruel reality of falconry.
Wednesday, 27 July, 2016

The 9th iPhone Photography Awards (IPPA), AKA "the Oscar of mobile phone photography," recently awarded young Chinese photographer Niu Siyuan with the Grand Prize for his iPhone photo captioned "Man and the Eagle," which features an ethnic Khalkha man with his captive eagle. This is the first time a Chinese photographer has won the IPPA Grand Prize.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is deeply concerned that such work, which showcases close contact between a raptor and a falconer and widely advertises the falconry culture, will be romanticized and popularized by the global mainstream audience.

Captured in the image of "Man and the Eagle," a Khalkha man is shown touching his nose to the beak of a hooded golden eagle, with the scene seemingly cozy and harmonious. According to a report from Ningxia Daily, the photographer, in his assumption, attributes his win to the judges being struck by the old man's infectious emotions.

"The truth is that the so called 'falconry culture' is anything but cozy and harmonious; it brings enormous harm to the raptor. This is not about 'an old man's tender feelings' as explained by the photographer to the media; this is not about coziness perceived by the media and the judges; this is actually about the hidden cruelty towards the raptor," said Zhou Lei, a rehabilitator from the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (BRRC). "Falconry requires cruel manipulations to render an eagle submissive. For example, raptors in training are subject to constraints on activities, starvation, and sleep deprivation. Many raptors die in the process; the survivors, if any, often suffer from various diseases. Among the raptors rescued from falconry by BRRC, an overwhelming majority suffers from diseases that are extremely difficult to treat, including bumblefoot, malnutrition, and respiratory problems such as aspergillosis infection." What’s more, the birds may be imprinted on humans, which compromises their ability to survive in the wild.

As hunters at the top of the food chain, raptors are rare in numbers. As stated by Ming Ma and Xumao Zhao of the Chinese Academy of Science in an article published in the April 2013 issue of China Nature Magazine, "Raptors cannot reproduce in captivity, so all falcons are from the wild. It is clear that the practice of falconry not only involves illegal poaching and wildlife trade, but also causes inestimable harm to the wild raptor population." According to estimates, when a live raptor is captured, transported, and sold to the final buyer, it suffers injuries, not to mention numerous other unlucky raptors and birds that cannot survive the gruesome process. Moreover, golden eagles, as featured in the winning photograph, are extremely rare and therefore under the state’s highest order of protection.

Founded in 2001, BRRC has rescued near 4,400 raptors, of which there were only 16 golden eagles. Half were rescued from illegal breeding and trade operations. "We were quite surprised when the photo won the award. We are deeply concerned about the public attention and the romanticization of falconry, which can potentially put more golden eagles and other raptors in danger," said Zhou Lei.

According to the Wildlife Protection Law, anyone who intends to domesticate and breed wildlife under special state protection must obtain a license (Wildlife Domestication and Breeding License) in order to do so. Since golden eagles are under state’s highest order of protection, any act of breeding, selling and transporting, if unauthorized by the State Forestry Administration, is illegal. IPPA’s official website does not provide any legal clarification of the winning submission. "The grand prize given to this photo could inadvertently encourage illegal wildlife possession," said Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW Asia Regional Director.

Khalkha falconry practices have been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2011, and falconry is often considered as a "cultural activity" by some of the media and the public. “In essence, falconry is mankind's selfish desire for entertainment at the expense of animal torture. Falconry practices can be regarded as an outdated, ancient skill at best, and it is undeserving of any attention or promotion as a symbol of ethnic Chinese culture," Xumao Zhao and Ming Ma write in the article.

"The photo romanticizes animal cruelty by misbranding it as traditional culture. Even if the old man possesses a Wildlife Domestication and Breeding License, this photo of animal cruelty is not appropriate to win such a prestigious photography award, and should not be celebrated by the mainstream society," said Grace Ge Gabriel. “We hope that IPPA will share clarification regarding the photo’s subjects with the media and the public. We hope the judges will fully consider animal welfare and environmental protection when considering submissions, and we hope that future entries can postively demonstrate the harmonious coexistence of humans and animals. We hope to raise the awareness of wildlife protection among global Apple users and photography fans alike.”

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook/IFAW and Twitter @action4ifaw

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