Graphic by Joaquin Kunkel/The Gazelle

The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

I learnt that falcons can travel on airlines as passengers. Now I want to know if a falcon can get a US visa faster than me.

Sep 18, 2016

During Parent Marhaba, I was assigned to lead one of the trips that took parents around Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was on the list of places we were supposed to visit during the three days. Since camels and falcons are a big thing here, one would think that this was just a hospital named after the UAE’s national bird. So I was confused — why were we taking parents to a hospital? Why not just take them to the RealAD show instead and sing 02-628-5555 to them until they memorized it? It was only when I was on the bus to the site that I heard Admissions Outreach Officer Hanan Abed tell one of the parents that this is the best hospital for falcons in the region.
Throughout the bus ride, I couldn’t stop speculating about what the hospital would be like. Would there be a big cold metal table in the Operating Theater with an injured falcon on it, surrounded by a medical team of 15 people, while the family of the falcon nervously waited outside for their beloved father who had been flying too fast? Or would it be like any other veterinary clinic that smells like bird droppings? Once we entered the compound, I realized that this place wasn’t an ordinary vet’s office. There were three buildings, the hospital itself, a waiting area majlis and a museum connected to a banquet hall. Outside the museum was a fountain with huge falcon sculptures that were the size of a person. It was clear that this wasn’t your regular veterinarian clinic.
After lunch, we went on a tour around the hospital. Outside the three main buildings was an air-conditioned compartment where the rescued birds were kept. This was not a big cage with a bunch of sad birds stuffed inside, like at a pet store. Rather, this was an enclosed area the size of the old Academic Resource Center, fitted with eight air conditioners and hosting up to 16 falcons of various ages and breeds. Inside the health center, we were given a demonstration of how a falcon’s claws and beaks need to be maintained so they don’t accidentally harm themselves. This basically means that they got cute manicures done, minus the nail paint. I also had the opportunity to feed a falcon some quail breast as it sat on my arm. The hospital also hosts other indigenous birds that have been rescued, such as desert owls.
The director of the hospital, Margit Muller, has won various regional and international awards for her role in developing the hospital. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the largest hospital of its kind in the world and works under the patronage of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Falconry is a key part of the heritage of the UAE and falcons are seen as a symbol of force and courage.
Visiting the falcon hospital taught me the importance of these birds to the identity of the UAE. I also learnt that falcons can travel on airlines as passengers once they get their own passports made. Now all I want to know is if a falcon can get a U.S. visa faster than me.
Ghaniba Ali is a contributing writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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