In a city where you can buy gold from a vending machine, it would only seem natural that falcons would have their own dedicated hotel for when their owners need a foreign sojourn. However since opening in 1999, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (ADFH) has not simply pampered its guests but has also saved the lives of tens of thousands of ailing avians. During hunting season, the hospital can see the admission of up to 85 injured birds a day, and deals with everything from routine wing and foot surgeries to more complex orthopaedic problems. As the first public hospital in the world entirely dedicated to falcons, ADFH has also been a pioneer of research into falcon medicine and boasts a training programme dedicated to students wanting to specialise in this more specific aspect of veterinary surgery.
However, the falcons are preparing themselves for some new housemates, because when a new extension to the Falcon Hospital opens later this month its capacity will increase to accommodate some 600 new tenants; this time cats and dogs. Cats, dogs and birds were great in Peter and the Wolf, but they’re not known to be the best of friends – so we asked Dr Margit Muller, the director of the Falcon Hospital, how it was going to work.
‘The extension consists of five large new buildings that will be used to house stray dogs and cats in Abu Dhabi. This will actually form the new Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter that we have been put in charge of by the Abu Dhabi Government, and so it doesn’t affect the falcons,’ says Dr Muller. Rather than detracting from the important work ADFH does with the birds, the new animal shelter will in fact be complementing it by adding to the services that the Falcon Hospital has been providing for cats and dogs since 2007. ‘We’re already the only veterinary hospital in Abu Dhabi that’s allowed to perform neutering operations, and this has formed part of our Pet Neuter and Release Programme that we’ve already had in place for a while. Along with the boarding kennels, the pet-care accessories shop and the medical services we offer, we’re hoping to become a sort of one-stop centre for all things cat and dog. We’ve even built a dog agility park so the animals can exercise,’ she says.
Since Dr Muller started her work here in Abu Dhabi 12 years ago, she has seen many positive changes in the state of animal welfare. ‘There’s been a really big improvement since we first opened the centre. People are now bringing healthy, well looked-after falcons into the hospital for routine examinations rather than leaving them to get sick, and this is something we want to see cross over into our work with the cats and dogs. We also want people to realise the active contribution they can make to animal welfare in the emirate by adopting one of our animals. Adopting is quite a new concept in Abu Dhabi, but the beauty of it is that it really does make a difference.’
The welfare of all the creatures at ADFC seems to be of paramount importance to Dr Muller’s staff, and while we had pictured cartoon-like canines with feathers round their mouths, she stresses that there will be no fallings-out among the residents at the centre. ‘Everything is kept very separate’ she says. ‘We have 2sq km of grounds here, and we’re very professional. In fact, the falcons won’t even know their neighbours have arrived.’ Seems like moving-in day sounds like it’s going to be a smooth operation, and, undoubtedly, the new Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter will continue the impressive work of its older brother.
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, Sweihan Road, Al Falah, Abu Dhabi, www.abudhabianimalshelter.com, www.falconhospital.com (02 575 5155).