São Paulo – As soon as I walked to the front desk to ask when the hospital would open for tourists, I saw the first one. That little animal, right by my side, weirded me out. The hospital would only open in one hour for tourists like me to know the place, so I sat on one of the benches in front of the hospital, on a typical sunny desert morning, in order to wait. Soon came some Arabs with their big cars, their white robes and their falcons.
I was there to see the falcon hospital, one of the most exotics tourist attractions of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which didn’t start off as a tourist site, but ended up opening a space for visitors such was the curiosity it aroused. A man in a robe sat with his falcon on the other bench a few feet from me. As other men arrived, some waited in front of the hospital, while others stayed in the lobby.
It is likely they were there for something ordinary, such as a check-up for the animals, or to treat some health issue, but for me, having a giant bird like that a few feet from me was so strange I couldn’t help myself from staring – and staring, and staring, and staring. I was starting to get familiar with those animals, which are local pets. Like our dogs – I thought.
The group of visitors was received by Abu Dhabi Falcon hospital executive director Margit Müller, a cheery talkative woman. She told us about the hospital’s history, about how the tourist demands made the institution prepare itself for this kind of visit, the service to other emirates and countries of the region, the transformation also into a research center, the opening of a hotel for falcons and the treatment for cats – another popular local pet.
There is much information and curiosities about the hospital and the falcons to learn about in the museum where Margit receives the tourists, but what is remarkable is that it is an initiative to preserve an animal so important to the history of the UAE, whose people started off as Bedouins. Bedouins have a falcon as their companion for traveling the desert, and the animal became a symbol of the country. Its design is even in their coat of arms.
The most interest part of the visit is being close to the falcons and seeing how they are treated in the outpatient area of the hospital. In early December, several falcons were there, all of them perched, with their eyes and ears covered so they wouldn’t feel the urge to fly off. Careful veterinarians told us about the treatments offered and demonstrated with one of the animals waiting for care.
At the end, tourists may take a picture with some of the more docile falcons. The animals perch on the people’s wrists, which have been protected by a wrist brace. Is it scary to have a bird so big on your arm? Well, as I walked into the hospital, I thought so, but the falcon that took a picture with me was a good boy who wanted to show off. It looked at me, then looked to the camera.
Everyone receiving the tourists into the hospital are so well-prepared that they can tell the most serious stories with humor. The visit continues with a tour through an area with the awards received by the hospital and then through an outdoors area, passing by spots such as the hotel for falcons. Looking like a medium-size gymnasium, the big tall building is where the animals may fly and mingle. The tour ends in another museum, where there are pictures of the main leaders of UAE, past and present, with their falcons.
The falcon hospital is a place to learn more about the UAE history, the daily life and passions of its people, and to see how they seek excellence and differential in almost everything they do, including falcon care. The place was created in 1999 and is the largest falcon hospital in the world, a reference in veterinarian medicine research in the area. Since the inauguration, more than 110,000 animals were treated.
After some hours walking around the hospital, the falcon stops weirding me out and starts looking just like any another pet, maybe even a little fragile one. After all, they are there for treatment – or for checking into hotel! Oh, the UAE and its creations!
Translated by Guilherme Miranda