Somewhat incongruously, the annual Abu Dhabi International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex) has become a fixed date on my calendar. Why? Two reasons, mainly. First, as it turns out, hunters are often also campers, and much of the equipment they use is of higher quality and lower price than anything an average outdoor store might stock. Second, this show brings together such a mixed bag of products, patrons and prospectors, it takes people-watching to a whole new and, at least to me, irresistible level.
On the labyrinthine marketplace of Adihex, exhibitors from all over the world tout anything from live falcons and remote-controlled tents to equine treadmills and designer guns. The audience is mostly male and Arab, interspersed with a good measure of non-Arab outdoorsy types and families desperate for a 'day out' in the air-conditioned halls of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. It is extremely hot and humid out there.
The best part is that you never know who you might run into and what you are going to buy. As usual, I walk away with an utterly random, firmly non-hunting selection. This year's pick: an enamel teapot, a satellite phone and a dressage whip.
What also never ceases to amaze me is the participation of environmental groups, whose presence here, at an event geared towards the killing and/or racing of animals, seems a bit like those well-intentioned – but ultimately ineffectual – booths at clubbings, where health workers hand out water and earplugs to spaced-out mobs of ravers.
Stand design is always a huge part of Adihex. One of the biggest, busiest and most eye-catching stalls at Adihex 2014 is, surprisingly, that of a local conservation effort: The International Fund for Houbara Conservation. The multi-storey stand features an enclosure of live houbaras as well as film screenings, an art exhibition, storytelling sessions and even an augmented reality experience – all evolving around the endangered houbara bustard:
The houbara bustard is the prime bird of prey in falconry. To say that the relationship between falconry and houbara conservation is a contradictory one would be quite the understatement. Hunters as supporters of conservation efforts? A complex dynamic, to say the least.
Meanwhile, on the other end of exhibitor spectrum: the weaponry section. I usually leave this out, but this year I decide to visit for the first time. I am uncomfortable around guns and less than enthusiastic about hunting as a pastime, but as I step through the metal detector, I try to put my reservations on hold and simply take in the scene. It is busy. Very busy. And some of the stalls are, I have to admit, totally fascinating. Take Tawazun, Abu Dhabi's own arms manufacturer, as an example. The knowledge that these weapons are designed and made in Abu Dhabi proves an odd sort of thrill and, as I stroll around the displays of sub-machine guns and hand guns, I notice many people with heavy-looking Tawazun carrier bags. An aspect of buying local I had previously not considered.
The other two stalls that catch my eye are much smaller and on the extreme high-end of the gun market. First up, Austrian maker of custom hunting rifles, Fuchs Fine Guns, where a single gun can apparently set you back USD 300,000 and above. Born and raised in Austria, I am intrigued to find out more. The Fuchs display strikes me as more approachable than other stalls, probably because branding, booth design and sales staff are more designer boutique than gun shop:
The same could be said for the stall opposite, belonging to the so-called 20th Century Collection. This private collection of over 400 historical guns has been placed on sale by its Danish owner and, as I understand, it represents the development of guns over the past century. The stall features none of the actual guns, but instead reels in potential buyers with pared-down interiors and fetching wallpaper, which shows stacks of antique gun cases. Polished counters display large-format catalogues featuring studio photos and detailed descriptions of each gun:
In total, the collection is worth USD 7.4 million (according to The National) and can only be bought as a whole. Although no sale has been announced yet, I would not be surprised if the eventual buyer hailed from the Gulf.
My personal opinions on gun culture and sports hunting aside, it is fascinating to stroll through the weapons section and see how these brands present themselves; I cannot deny a certain fascination. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have long wanted to go to IDEX, and, perhaps, this is the closest to a bona-fide Middle Eastern arms fair I am going to get.
As we amble out (no metal detector at the exits), I find it slightly perplexing to see droves of visitors leaving the fair with carrier bags bearing the logos of various rifle dealers and conservation groups. This, I can't help thinking, is not the easiest circle to square.