Penryn College Celebrates 15 years of Falconry
Penryn College is situated in a stunning bushveld setting on the Boschrand Hills overlooking Mbombela (Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa) and the Crocodile River Valley. In this peaceful and beautiful environment, our scholars embrace an ethos of holism, which requires them to be excellent at something and good at many things.
Penryn College is one of three schools in Southern Africa which offers falconry as an extra-curricular activity, the other two being Falcon College and Peter House in Zimbabwe. Falconry was first introduced to Penryn College through the auspices of Dr Ray Jansen in 2001. On his departure in 2002, Mr Steven van Rensburg took charge of the falconry club.
The Penryn College library houses a number of excellent books on falconry, and pupils who are drawn to Penryn through falconry are encouraged to read as many of these books as they possibly can. As an alternative the schools’ WIFI can also be used as a tool to research the various aspects of Falconry. There are certainly many reputable webpages and YouTube clips on the net which will aid their understanding of falconry.
After having extensively researched and read up on all the aspects of falconry, the pupil is then subjected to the first of 2 exams. The first exam is a baseline assessment to assess what the pupil has learnt and or already knows about falconry. A pass mark of 70% allows the novice entrance to the 2 year apprentice programme.
Apprentice falconers are advised to spend as much time as possible with active graded falconers. Here they experience first-hand what falconry is really all about. It is also at this point where they decide if falconry is for them or not. Once the apprentices have successfully completed the required 2 year course, the second exam (C Grade) is written.
A pass mark of 85% allows the apprentices to practise the ancient art of falconry and is then permitted to house and fly one of the C Grade birds (jackal Buzzard or female African Goshawk) The qualifying course is intense and designed to produce an individual dedicated to the well-being of the bird entrusted to the falconer. Upon graduating to C Grade status, the falconer automatically becomes affiliated to the Mpumalanga falconry club and the South African Falconry Association (SAFA).
Although falconry is frowned upon by many because of misconceptions such as “it’s a blood sport making use of beautiful birds permanently tethered to a perch”, it is embodied in a unique relationship between man, bird and often dog, where the falconer has a brief insight into the splendour of birds of prey, the tactical evasive techniques of their quarry and the enjoyment of outdoor experiences.
An accomplished Penryn falconer must have the knowledge and the experience to provide his/ her bird with the best possible environment, housing, food, equipment as well as experience in avian health and possible diseases. The falconer is expected to be au fait with the biological interactions between predator and prey and the approach of sustainable utilisation of wild game species. The student thus becomes an ecologist and an environmentalist with “hands- on” experience. The educational spin-offs are immense to the students, their peers and surrounding community.
Penryn falconry birds are often acquired through the local conservation services (MTPA), vets and rehabilitation centres. These birds are often released after a season’s ”hawking”, when they are able to integrate successfully into the wild and have gained experience in hunting techniques and fitness necessary to survive environmental stress.
Penryn falconers are actively involved in monitoring various raptor species found in the Lowveld. Species monitored annually include:
African Crowned Eagle (42 nesting sites)
Black Sparrowhawk (12 nesting sites)
African Peregrine Falcon (28 nesting sites)
Black Eagle (4 nesting sites)
Lanner Falcon (9 nesting sites)
Ayres Hawk Eagle (intra African non breeding migrant)
Monitoring the various local populations include, Status (common/ uncommon), Habitat (mountain, forest, cities etc), Habits (solitary/ gregarious), Food (caught and eaten/ brought to the nest, Breeding (season/ incubation/ nestlings)
Life after Penryn (Post matric)
Most Penryn falconers who study at universities in South Africa have gained acceptance into courses such as Zoology and Veterinary Science. Falconers who are less academically inclined have qualified for work at various falconry centres, local and abroad or registered for FGASA courses. Some of these falconers too, have gone on to study later on and have qualified as Zoologists/ Ecologists.