In a waiting hall in a hospital dedicated to falcons near Abu Dhabi, Eid Al Qubaisi and his two falcons sat waiting for their turn to undergo a routine examination in preparation for a fishing trip to Azerbaijan.

Falcons in the Emirates are a national symbol and a beloved tradition.

"This has been my hobby since 2007," said the 26-year-old Emirati, touching the hawk gently. Two skin masks covered the eyes of the two falcons to keep them calm.

After the waiting period in the hospital reception hall ends, the flight will undergo blood tests to complete the fishing trip.

The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital treats about 11,000 falcon annually, which has doubled in the past 10 years.

Hospital director Margit Muller assures "Falcons have a very special place in the hearts of Emiratis."

In 2010, falconry was included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.


This facility in Abu Dhabi is the largest hospital dedicated to falcons in the world and is a destination for many breeders of these birds from all over the Gulf region. In addition to regular check-ups and claw pruning, the hospital also performs complex surgical operations, and provides a training program for veterinary students from more than 40 countries to learn about bird medicine.

"Very complex operations may include broken legs or wings, or when the falcon is subjected to a very large accident that causes major injuries," Mueller stressed.

"Extremely long surgeries ... may take three to four hours," she added. This is the longest time that a falcon can be kept under anesthesia. ”

These precious birds of prey are considered a hunting companion in a tradition known locally as "sniping", but the chances of hunting trips in the Emirates are very limited, as hunting is permitted only in certain reserves.

Therefore, the hospital is considered a base station for many birds before traveling to well-known fishing destinations such as Morocco, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

Emirati falconers are allowed to own these precious prey birds that are bred in captivity only. It must issue its own passports that comply with the World Trade Treaty for Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Major airlines in the Emirates only allow guide dogs to be in the cabin of their aircraft, but the hawks have exceptions.

Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi allows falcons in the passenger compartment or as checked baggage, while Emirates Airlines allows falcons to travel alongside their owners to specific destinations in Pakistan.

"The most popular destination for the hawks who travel with their hawks in the passenger cabin is Pakistan," a Emirates Airlines spokeswoman told AFP.

A symbol of tradition

The hospital has its own program and facilities for breeding falcons that can be purchased, but the majority of falcons are imported into the UAE from breeders in the continents of Europe and America.

Muller notes that the hawks "remain with the falcon throughout her life," explaining that "she will not be released because she is hawks raised in captivity."

And she pointed out that the most popular and beautiful falcon is the most expensive female. A female hawk can carry a prey up to five times its weight. "The female is usually larger than the male, and more powerful," she explains.

Inherited hobby

Al Saqqar Salem Al Mansoori, from Abu Dhabi, confirms that Falcons are not just an expensive hobby, but rather a symbol of Emirati traditions and culture. "The falcons were used for hunting, and it can be said that it was the only way to fish in order to continue, especially when traveling long distances hundreds of years ago," said the young Emirati (30 years).

"We inherited that from our grandparents and fathers who taught us, and now we will teach the next generation."

Falcons in the Emirates are a national symbol and a beloved tradition.

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital treats about 11,000 falcon annually.