As it isn’t on the usual tourist routes, our driver is having a hard time finding his way. In this semi-residential quarter bordering Business Bay near the Financial District and Burj Khalifa, we finally manage to locate the Dubai Falcon Hospital, a quasi-anonymous low, white building with an arched entryway. The only person in the waiting room is a young Emirati wearing a dishdasha. With its immaculate walls and neon lights, it could be any other waiting room of the modern medical world, were it not for the presence of... a falcon perched on some furniture, its ankles restrained by jesses and a leather hood covering its eyes. We are received one door down by Doctor Antonio Di Somma. ‘This is Dubai’s first falcon-only veterinary clinic. Today there are seven such, but Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum opened this one in 1983. Birds are treated free of cost. I’ve been directing veterinary activities here for the past twelve years,’ explains the vet, a dapper Italian with short-cropped white hair.
Endoscopies and blood tests
The season is over and the clinic is calm. Hunting takes place every year from late August to early March, when falconers bring their raptors to the desert to chase the Houbara bustard in flight. Or to track game. In this chilly laboratory with white floors and walls there is at least one impressively sizeable peregrine falcon with splendid grey plumage. ‘He’s under observation for a liver problem,’ explains the veterinarian. Another bird is being put to sleep for an endoscopy. A third needs a blood test. And a very young raptor waits in an incubator, where it will remain until it’s a bit larger. Maybe, after a training period that will last from three weeks to three months, it will become a champion.
Aspergillosis and bumblefoot, two dread diseases
The Dubai Falcon Hospital lacks for nothing when it comes to caring for their patients. The clinic has an operating surgery, a radiology wing, an analytical laboratory, an orthopaedic section, etc. Then again, a champion can fetch up to €50,000, and even a minor issue can affect its performance. Two particularly dread diseases are aspergillosis and bumblefoot. The former is a fungal infection, while the latter is a bacterial disease causing inflammation or lesions of the spurs or feet. Thirteen people – most of them veterinarians and assistants – work here full time to care for the 1,700 raptors entrusted to their care each year. Most birds come from abroad. ‘We are no longer allowed to catch wild falcons here in the Emirates; the species are protected. Our birds are generally born in captivity and imported from the US, Canada, Germany, Spain, and so on,’ the director tells us.
In carefully closed separate boxes, other raptors perched upon small stands are boarding here. The falcon with digestive issues is now asleep on the operating table, ready to be examined. Soon he will recover his strength so that next season he can fully participate in this important part of the heritage and social structure of the Emirates.
Dubaï City Tourism Information: www.visitdubai.com/en/
Dubai Falcon Hospital
Tel: 00971 4 337 7576 / 00971 4 334 6091
Muscat Street, Nad-al-Sheba
Tel: 00971 4 338 0201