In Europe the Saker has suffered mainly from the loss and degradation of steppes and dry grasslands through agricultural intensification, plantation establishment and declines in sheep pastoralism, causing a decline in key prey species; offtake for falconry is also a problem, which has caused local extinctions3,4,13. In eastern Hungary, landscape reversion following the abandonment of agriculture could have a negative influence, as most prey species require short swards that are maintained by agricultural practices12. Elsewhere declines are mainly attributable to offtake for falconry, although human persecution, pesticide use (notably in Mongolia in 2003) and agrochemical deployment play a lesser part2,3,5,6,7,9,10. The number of Sakers trapped annually for Middle East falconers has been estimated at 4,000 in Saudi Arabia, 1,000 in Qatar and 500-1,000 in each of Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE, which, allowing for a 5% mortality prior to receipt, indicates an annual consumption of 6,825-8,400 birds6,7. Of these, the great majority (77%) were believed to be juvenile females, followed by 19% adult females, 3% juvenile males and 1% adult males, potentially creating a major bias in the wild population6,7. Another study however gives a far lower estimate for numbers legally trapped in Saudi Arabia, at an average of 22 birds per year in the period 2002-200917. Hybridisation with escaped or released hybrid falcons could influence the genetic integrity of wild populations12, 14.
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