Photos: Leopoldo Luis
Humans stay away from hawks due to the fear caused by their sharp beak and claws. Moreover, the growing urban settlement of modern man turns this winged creature of the woods into an exclusive image of Animal Planet and National Geographic.
Hence an encounter in the heart of Havana with the raptor is a novelty. Even more so if the falconer (or falconero) carries it around bareheaded, perched on his naked forearm. No cap to cover the hawk’s eyes or a glove to protect the forearm of the falconer, as prescribed by tradition.
“Stretch out your arm,” says the young man and I offer my arm with suspicion. The bird moves from his arm and rests above mine, barely holding itself up, conveying no pressure or pain.
The beautiful specimen of Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicencis), also known as “Mountain Hawk”, can reach up to 40 cm in height.”But it is still a fledgling three-month. I picked it up when it was 15 days old, in a nest near the Cienaga de Zapata swamp. He had no parents. Farmers annihilate the raptors to protect their poultry.”
Sparrowhawks eat small birds, insects and rodents, though some species include in their diet fish, snails and frogs. They are diurnal animals and are classified with the genus Accipitridae, of the order Falconiformes.
The expert in falconry shows his bird and shares it with children, pedestrians and foreign visitors. His name is Manuel Enrique Gonzalez Molina. At age 31, he is an Industrial Engineer, got a BS in Mechanical Engineering and trained to be a canine handler.
“I became interested in training other kinds of animals, and so I got to hawks.” says Manuel. “I am not alone, we are seven people in total and we raised several of these birds and formed a club of enthusiasts of falconry. We learned empirically and looking for information on the Internet and other means. ”
There is a Path of the Hawks in Pinar del Río, and its western end, the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, is a migratory corridor for species from North America as the “dumb” hawk and the scissors tail hawk.
Cienfuegos province has a Hawks River and Wildlife Refuge Guanaroca-Gavilanes. While in Sancti Spiritus province you find the Hawks Hill and a town by the same name.
Hawks are creatures bound to Cuban fauna since ancient times. There are two species endemic to the island: Gundlach’s Hawk (Accipiter gundlachi) and the Cuban Kite (Chondrohierax wilsoni), which are at risk of extinction.
On addition to that, Cuba was the birthplace of Kid Gavilan (Gerardo Gonzalez,1926-2003), world champion in professional boxing. And national culture rejoices to have the musical family: the Lopez-Gavilan, made up by Guido (conductor) and his sons Aldo (pianist) and Ilmar (violinist).
Hawks for biological control
Manuel is licensed to work as an animal keeper and a Photographer. For those licenses, he pays taxes to the state for about 500 pesos (20 USD). Thanks to them he got a position in the Hotel Riu Varadero.
“Here we are dedicated to scare the birds that hinder activities of the hotel, as the food tables mounted outdoors. Also for tourists are a very attractive show what we can achieve with trained birds. ”
How did you become inserted into the area of the historic center of Old Havana? “We closed because of the low tourist season and came here. There is interest from the Office of the Historian in us to help control the pests of bats in museums. ”
And from the street they go straight to the cage? “Not at all! They would die of sadness. I have a room in the house meant for the hawk. Others remain on the trees in the yard. ”
With Manuel I learn many things: how he manages to feed the hawks, the secret tactics they base their training on for not wearing the cap or the gauntlet … But that would not fit in a few lines. I prefer to close with his words that define the utility of modern art of falconry, developed in the medieval times by feudal lords to devote their leisure time to hunt.
“There is a cultural intention here, to develop environmental sensitivity, to make people familiar with the wild animal.”
“In the world’s airports they use falconry to keep birds away from the runways so they don’t cause aircraft accidents. Here, however, they are shot with buckshot or people frighten them with burning tires, which give off a very toxic smoke to the environment.
“We hope that the government let us work at airports and demonstrate the role hawks can play as natural biological control.”