Mention the middle east and several generic images tend to enter ones consciousness. Camels, sand, mosques, date palms and beautiful architecture are some images, but the most iconic visual representation is definitively a sheikh with a falcon on his arm. And therefore in order to get as close as possible to making this stereotypical image into a reality, I ventured 35 minutes out of town and headed to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
|Sheikh Zayed with his Falcon|The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is located near the Abu Dhabi International Airport and is just off the sweihan rd. I will offer some advice for those travelling there in the near future, take plenty of maps and detailed directions as sign posts and road names are scarce. Having said that the experience is well worth the stress associated with trying to read tiny road signs at 120 kilometers an hour.
|Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital entrance|
As you enter the complex you cant help but notice how simple the whole layout is and the large amount of greenery gives as much of a woodland feel as the middle east can offer. Walk in tours are not available and all patrons wishing for a tour must ring and book in advance. The contact details are available form the Abu Dhabi Raptor Hospital Link above. The tours are held as guided tours in different languages such as English, Arabic, French and German. Tours are conducted daily at 10.00 am and 2.00 pm (except Friday, Saturday and public holidays) and the cost is 150 dhms per person..
The tour starts with complimentary orange juice or water and the tour guide goes into great detail in relation to the falconry history of the middle east, the varying types of falcons used and other amusing tid-bits such as falcon international passports.
For those unfamiliar with the term, falconry is "The taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat, using trained birds of prey." It was a technique originally used by Bedouin people as a form of hunting but now is a privileged reserved only for the most affluent and important. The hospital was setup to ensure the continuation of the falconry industry and to provide world class care and aid for all aspects of falconry.
Once the initial information session had concluded, we were taken into the actual hospital and were greeted to a room full of hooded falcons. I must admit it was a comical sight at first but the aura exuded by these magnificent birds of prey was nothing short of powerful and majestic.
|The Falcon "waiting" room|
The veterinarians donned in blue scrubs were very friendly and approachable and were keen for us all to get more hands on with the falcons and basic surgical procedures. There are 3 main species present within the hospital and all have different strengths and weaknesses in relation to hunting. You can easily see differences in sizes between the birds and as you walk through the room you notice them turn their heads slowly as you cross there path.
|Traditional head piece|
Tour goers will be treated to some basic bird maintenance such as nail clipping and beak shaving. If people want to help with these procedures then they are encouraged to do so and allows you to get closer to these birds then you may have thought was ever possible.
|Full hospital setup|
After the procedures had been completed we were allowed to walk around and get a first hand experience with the birds. The vets pulled out the leather gloves and coaxed many of the apprehensive tourists to get a raptor to sit on their arm and get an impressive holiday photo. I fortunately was allowed to handle one of the more aggressive birds behind closed doors. Quite an exciting moment for me.
|Personal highlight moment for me|
The birds are extremely well behaved and each has its own personal head piece which can cost upto $5000 each. You are able to handle all 3 species of falcon (Peregrine, Gyr and Saker) and also any other local raptor species that are being treated.
|Truly hands on|
|Different head pieces and tools|
After a good 45 minutes with the birds we were taken outside and shown the other residents currently being housed as the hospital. At the time of this blog they had a number of powerful owls present that were destined for release soon. The final part of the tour involved being shown the interactive information area and the reception area for those interested in hosting conferences or celebrations.
|Soon to be released owl|
|Interactive information center|
Overall I can thoroughly recommend the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital as an interesting and informative addition to anyone's tourist schedule. Its not the most common tourist attraction and the ability to get close to the birds and immerse yourself in an aspect of middle eastern history and culture, is exactly the reason why it should be experienced.
Happy travels and good fortunes