Qatar’s falcons get subsidised healthcare


The Souq Waqif, Doha’s historic market, unspools from the close by bay like a roll of treasured material. A medieval maze of slim alleyways linked to a large essential plaza, the Souq has lengthy served as a buying and selling publish for Bedouin arriving by camel and travellers in small boats.

But at present, as one of many metropolis’s final surviving historic city areas, the Souq additionally serves the quickly modernising emirate as a hyperlink to a historical past and a tradition that’s fading. Nowhere is that conflict of previous and current extra obvious than on the market’s falcon hospital, a state-of-the-art medical facility devoted to caring for animals which were revered right here for hundreds of years.

“In Qatar, falcons are a symbol of dignity, valour and pride,” mentioned Dr Ikdam M. Alkarkhi, the hospital’s Iraqi-educated director and veterinary guide.

“For Arabs, falconry was a way of life where every household, irrespective of their social or tribal status, enjoyed the presence of falcons around them. Falcons would be considered part of the family.”

More than 1.2 million persons are anticipated to flood Qatar between Nov 20 and Christmas for the soccer World Cup, the worldwide championship of a sport that was little appreciated within the nation only a technology in the past. Falconry, nevertheless, has been the nationwide sport since lengthy earlier than Qatar turned a nation. And it’s a cultural touchstone Qataris are desperate to share with guests.

Brief historical past of falconry

Falconry within the Middle East goes again greater than 5,000 years and was launched to the sandy Arabian peninsula that turned Qatar by humble Bedouin tribes. Nomadic individuals used the birds to hunt prey, such because the Houbara bustard, a big, quick chook that has been hunted so aggressively that it’s now an endangered species in Qatar.

The expertise the Bedouin discovered whereas looking finally turned the premise for the game nonetheless practised in Qatar. But if that sport hasn’t modified over the centuries, nearly every thing else about falconry has.

It’s not a pursuit for humble tribal individuals, for instance, however slightly a passion for the wealthy – which, in Qatar, is nearly everybody for the reason that nation’s residents have the best per-capita earnings on the earth and pay nothing for electrical energy, land, water or healthcare.

From survival to standing image

Falcons are the quickest members of the animal kingdom, able to reaching speeds of greater than 380kph throughout dives. And prized birds, lots of that are imported to Qatar, are bought in markets or by way of non-public sellers for tens of hundreds of {dollars}.

“The preference depends on the genes,” Alkarkhi mentioned. “One cannot judge the preference of one over the other, so the owners of farms that crossbreed must choose the distinctive characteristics of the bird before proceeding to breed it. Qatari falconers have very good knowledge about falcons and their diseases.”

The tools used within the sport, resembling four-wheel-drive autos and radio displays, can value a whole lot of hundreds extra, which is why falconry has gone from one thing Bedouins did to place meals on the desk to a standing image, with princes and emirs competing to purchase or increase the most effective birds, a few of that are valued within the tens of millions.

It has additionally triggered the occasional diplomatic rift. Members of Qatar’s ruling Al-Thani household have been arrested three years in the past and charged with stalking treasured birds throughout a falcon-hunting journey to Pakistan in 2019.

Falcon hospital

Protecting the investments of royals and commoners explains why hospitals resembling Alkarkhi’s deal with as many as 150 falcons a day. During the height season, from September to February, the falcon perch within the hospital’s ready room regularly turns into so crowded that it wants a ready room of its personal.

“They are part of the family. If anything happens to [them], they take it to the hospital for a check-up and necessary services,” Alkarkhi, who has a grasp’s diploma in avian pathology from the University of Baghdad, in Iraq, mentioned of his purchasers.

The hospital, which opened in 2008, may maintain its personal towards any trendy medical facility for people, boasting X-ray and gene-sequencing machines and tools for performing endoscopies and processing blood, faecal and kidney samples. The employees of practically two dozen, most of whom are foreign-born, can deal with greater than 200 providers, from beauty procedures resembling beak changes and feather replacements to invasive surgical procedure, Alkarkhi mentioned.

On a latest summer time morning, veterinarians and technicians in white lab coats, or inexperienced and blue medical scrubs with the round emblem of the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital on the left breast, bustled between spacious examination rooms and counters topped with computer systems and high-powered microscopes. One man, sporting a yellow leather-based glove as safety towards razor-sharp talons, carried a falcon down one of many large hallways.

Because the three-floor facility is subsidised by Sheikh Tamim Hamad al-Thani, Qatari’s ruler, Alkarkhi mentioned hospital visits can value as little as US$5 (RM22).

But the royal remedy doesn’t cease with healthcare. A Saudi prince as soon as purchased particular person seats on a business flight for 80 of his falcons. At least 4 Middle Eastern airways – Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Royal Jordanian airways – permit falcons to fly in the primary cabin of their planes, supplied they’ve a ticket and a passport to show they aren’t being stolen.

Ancient pillars of regional tradition

UCLA historical past professor James Gelvin, creator of The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know, mentioned the eye and funding Qatar has made in falconry is essential for a younger nation looking for an identification and a spot on the world stage.

It’s why a 7.5-ton, 40f metal and aluminium statue of a fearsome-looking, if kitschy, falcon was put in final 12 months exterior the departures terminal of Doha’s worldwide airport. And it’s why town’s fashionable Katara Cultural Village has staged an annual falcon exhibition every September since 2017, drawing greater than 180 firms from 20 international locations to advertise the game and the tradition that surrounds it.

“You have falconry, you have dates, you have pearls,” Gelvin mentioned, ticking off three historic pillars of regional tradition that predate the institution of any Arab Gulf international locations. “All these states, they’re brand new. So what they have to do is invent some sort of past.

“It’s called in the historical profession the invention of tradition. You pick a tradition and you say: ‘Hey, we’re Scottish, so therefore we’re going to wear kilts. And that’s really going to be important for us because that’s what our national identity is.’ [Or] ‘we’re Qataris, therefore falconry is important for us.’ It’s actually part and parcel of the state-building process that’s going on.”

Which is one other method of claiming it’s not only for the birds. – dpa/tca/Kevin Baxter

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