Thanks to the bountiful oil supply in their backyard, and the small pool of people among who to divide the profits of such a lucrative windfall, the average Emirati is extremely wealthy. While Italian sports cars, Swiss summer villas, and solid gold iPhone cases are fun ways to spend one’s seemingly limitless supply of money, their is one exorbitant diversion that almost no well-heeled Emirati can resist, falconry.
Originally a means for the desert-dwelling Bedouin people to supplement their meager diets with much-needed protein, Falconry has become an expensive pastime for the elite and spawned a lucrative industry. These birds of prey can fetch anywhere from $30,000 to more than $1 million each depending on the sex, size, color and sub-species. Large, white, female Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) are considered the most desirable and typically fetch the most money.
Emirati sportsmen (it is a male-dominated sport) take their falconry extremely seriously, sometimes buying out entire flights for large hunting parties that can include a dozen men and several dozen birds. Oh, and the birds don’t fly in the cargo hold; they get their own seats in First Class. That almost makes sense when you consider that the United Arab Emirates actually issues individual falcons their own official passports (not a joke).
So it should come as no surprise that Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s preeminent falcon hospital, where these luxury birds are taken for regular check-ups and treatment. I took a two-hour tour of the clinic during my recent trip to the UAE, and was incredibly impressed with the staff’s dedication and professionalism. The graceful raptors are treated better than some human patients I’ve seen in other hospitals around the world.
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