Just about a 20-minutes drive away from Abu Dhabi lies a ‘sanctuary’ for one of the world’s most regal birds, the falcon. For the Emiratis, these birds of prey are a symbol of courage, strength and speed, and, needless to say, find a presence all across the United Arab Emirates – not just on its currency and advertisements but also in people’s homes where they are looked at as a loving and respected family member.
It comes as no surprise then, as you walk into the serene environs of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital that falcons and falconry are serious business in the Emirates. And visitors are often treated to a beautiful sight in the reception area- of men in traditional robes and headgear with these birds perched proudly on their arms. They are being brought here, we are informed, not just for all kinds of serious treatments including injuries and mending of broken feathers but also for some beauty care.
Also Read: Best drinks to enjoy during winters
The hospital’s museum gives you a peek not just into the rarefied world of falcons but also the other inhabitants of the desert like the gazelle. Set up in 1999 as a hospital for falcons, it has now become a foster home for other birds and animals as well, and yes, one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the Emirates.
The tour begins with a detailed introduction to the life and style of falcons by the hospital guide. These birds, as told, were an integral part of the bedouin tribe who used them not just for sport but also for hunting. With their keen eyesight- three times more than humans- and sharp talons, falcons can spot their prey from great heights. They swoop down on their victim with an incredible speed of about 320 kms making them faster than even the Ferrari!
Falcons, unsurprisingly, don’t come cheap and can go up to as much as $50,000, and enjoy a special place in their owners’ hearts – and have special rooms in their homes. Further, as our guide informs, should they need to travel, falcons are even issued their own passports by the Ministry of Environment and Water. Flyers in the Middle East are often not surprised when their fellow passenger turns out to be a falcon!
Also part of the tour is a round of the treatment area where falcons sit on wooden perches with their eyes covered by hoods. This is done, say the handlers, to keep them calm. “Falcons are generally quiet creatures but can get anxious at the slightest disturbance and consequently attack anyone, even fellow falcons,” visitors are told.
Finally, the piece de resistance of the tour that all visitors wait for – the handlers allowing them to wear a special, thick glove and letting one of the falcons, trained one, perch itself on their arm. A prized up close and personal encounter with these deadly birds of prey, for sure!
Ideal time to spend: Two hours
How to reach: By road. It’s a 20-minutes’ drive from Abu Dhabi.
Entry fee: 170 AED. For children aged 5 to 9, it’s 60 AED
Address: Sweihan Road, Al Shamkha, Near the Abu Dhabi International Airport – Abu Dhabi