ABU DHABI – When a falcon in the Gulf Arab countries falls sick, the owners of these much-loved and expensive hunting birds know where to take them: to the world’s largest falcon hospital which is in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s their baby, they want the best for it,” said hospital director Margit Muller, a German veterinarian who has more than 25 years of experience in treating falcons.
“Sometimes when the falcons have an accident at night, the owners will sit there for hours into the early morning.”
The birds are more than pets and the practice is more than a sport.
Falconry is an important part of the cultural desert heritage of Arabs of the United Arab Emirates and neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia.
“The Bedouin used falcons to hunt meat so the falcon was essential to ensure the survival of the Bedouin’s family,” said Muller. “(The birds) have always been considered like children of the family and this remains until today.”
With flights exceeding 300km/* , falcons can suffer serious injuries as they collide with prey or ingest infected meat. The government-supported Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s main centre for falcon medicine. Its subsidised prices means people of all income levels can access falcon care, Muller said.
“Nowadays falconry is one of the very few opportunities for the former Bedouin to reconnect to their past,” she added.
Falcons are recognised internationally as endangered and only captive-bred birds can be legally owned in the UAE.
– Reuters African News Agency (ANA)