Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is one of thousands of visitors who head to the falcon stands at Abu Dhabi's hunting exhibition.
Adihex 2013: Busy day as falcons fly off the shelves
ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was given the royal seal of approval yesterday when its stand at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition was visited by Sheikh Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Sheikh Mohammed joined thousands of visitors to Adihex at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and took particular interest in the hospital as well as the Abu Dhabi Falconers Club.
It was the second day of the exhibition and falconers lined up to buy birds of prey to get them treated at the Falcon Hospital in preparation to take them home.
The hospital, the world's largest, had a stand giving medical check-ups so people could screen falcons before buying them.
Dr Margit Muller, the hospital's director, said this year's stand was twice as large as last year's because of high demand.
"We have a clinic here so we're doing pre-purchase examinations for falcons. When falconers want to buy falcons from the other stands, they bring them to us; we do an endoscopy, X-ray and check everything. It's a big help for the falconers to get everything done here - like a one-stop centre. And they can make sure they get a healthy bird."
Dr Muller said falconers who visited the UAE for Adihex from all across the GCC could also obtain health certificates for Dh500, which are needed to allow them to travel with their falcons.
Falconers come from all walks of life so the hospital tries to keep treatment affordable.
"The aim of the hospital is that everybody who owns a falcon is able to bring it to us to get the best possible medical care. Not only rich people have falcons; very normal people have falcons and need access to world-class health care at affordable prices."
This year, the hospital is expected to treat more than 8,000 falcons. However, treating even one falcon is no easy task, according to Dr Muller, who said the birds are very sensitive, proud creatures.
"Of course, all our staff are veterinarians, but you need to have a feeling, an instinct for falcons. You can learn the technical part but to work with falcons is really difficult. They are very sensitive birds and you must have a love and a passion for them. This takes a lot of experience and many years of practical work.
"And falcons are birds of prey. They will not show easily that they are sick - in the wild they can't afford to. When you look at a falcon, it is a huge, majestic animal. But, at the same time, when they get sick they will try to cover up and hide as much as they can until the moment they're critically sick and start breaking down."
Also exhibiting was the Abu Dhabi Falconers' Club, a new club which is responsible for organising this year's President's Cup for Falconry Competition. The competition will run from October until January next year, with Dh15 million worth of prizes up for grabs.
The club offers memberships to Emiratis over 16, for a fee of Dh4,000 a season. Additionally, it will tame, train and care for falcons for Dh750 a week or Dh2,500 a month. Members receive access to training tools and equipment.
Metres away, people stroked and inspected falcons of all prices and sizes at the Falcon Centre's stand.
Hamad Al Khatibi, the sales manager for the Dubai company, said it had sold 30 falcons by the afternoon.
"People buy our falcons and go over to the hospital to get them checked out. We have different falcons - big, small, male and female. And there is a big difference of prices - from Dh15,000 to Dh80,000.
"Females are bigger and more expensive - they're good for hunting hubara. Hubara are big, so hunters need a big falcon for them."
The Falcon Hospital also showcased the Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter, which it manages.
The shelter was set up by Abu Dhabi Executive Council in 2010 to care for stray dogs and cats found in the capital's streets.
"We're the only authorised shelter. We treat them if needed - vaccinate, neuter, put microchips in, get them ready for adoption," said Dr Muller.
"Today we're showcasing dogs and cats for adoption. I think it shows how much Abu Dhabi really cares, not just for falcons, but for dogs and cats too."