Importance of birds of prey in nation’s heritage highlighted
Spreading passion for the UAE's majestic falcons
ABU DHABI // Abdullah Mian Sodagar beamed with pride as cries of "wow" rang out, as a group of visitors spotted his falcons sitting quietly beside him at Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village.
While children rushed forward to get closer, some of the adults looked apprehensive. They quickly relaxed as they held one of the majestic birds of prey, which have become synonymous with the heritage of the emirate.
Mr Sodagar, from Pakistan, has been in Abu Dhabi for nearly 30 years, after being hired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed in 1985.
"He brought me here to take care of the falcons in his palace," said the former falcon trader, from Karachi.
The 47-year-old said he used to go on hunting trips abroad with the falcons.
He can be found each week sharing his passion for the birds at Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village - a reconstructed oasis village that informs people about the emirate's history.
As Abu Dhabi's heritage takes centre stage at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, visitors to the village told of the importance of being able to get up close to the birds.
Sue Harrington, 52, from Australia, has been living in Abu Dhabi for about six weeks.
"It's fantastic. I experienced seeing a falcon when we went on a desert safari. I'm going to go to the falcon hospital to learn more about them," she said.
Susan Saed, a teacher, was with a group of Emirati children, aged 4 and 5, who were visiting the village.
"It's a part of Adec's [Abu Dhabi Education Council] new curriculum - it's very important that we include the heritage," she said. "That's why we brought them here and that's why we are showing them the falcons."
In the past, falcons were used to hunt small animals, including hares and birds, which were then eaten by people living in the desert.
The founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed, was passionate about the sport of falconry and the image of the falcon is the UAE's national symbol.
Emirati Mohammad Suhail used to keep falcons and spoke of the importance of the birds.
"Ever since I was a child, maybe 7 or 8, we would see our elders with falcons and we would want them as well," he said. "We love them as friends; they would always be with us. We loved them more because we could go hunting and they would entertain us."
He said that nowadays the relationship had changed because there was a ban on hunting with falcons. The ban was introduced over fears that prey could become extinct.
People can find out more about falcons at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, as a handler will be in the desert section of the event.