Monday, December 23, 2019

The Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar

The Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar, is a luxurious and technologically advanced veterinary hospital that spares no expense for falcon care.

This morning is like most others at the clinic, the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, which, as its name does little to hide, is an entire facility dedicated to treating one member of the raptor family. Tucked in one corner of the main square in Doha’s old city, the historic center where thousands of soccer fans have gathered for FIFA’s Club World Cup, it is a medical facility like few others...

In Qatar, as in several other countries in the Gulf, the falcon fulfills a variety of roles, from family pet to status symbol to racing competitor. But falcons also provide an important and valued link to the region’s ancient Bedouin culture.

Today, the most sought-after birds can change hands for a few thousand dollars. The best, though, are worth a few million to the men — and it is always men who handle the falcons — who plow fortunes into a centuries-old pastime in the world’s richest country....

Set over multiple floors, the facility, subsidized by Qatar’s ruler, treats about 150 falcons a day. Most of the birds come for checkups after being bought in the many shops selling falcons nearby, or to have what staff members nonchalantly describe as a mani-pedi, the falcon equivalent of a manicure in which its beak and talons are sharpened while under general anesthesia. Others arrive to have radio transmitters and GPS devices fitted so their owners can keep track of the expensive birds when they take them out to hunt. The devices are typically attached to tail feathers, though some require invasive implantation surgery.

The most serious work — orthopedic surgery to mend broken bones that in the wild would mean certain death — takes place in an inpatient unit housed on another floor.

In the general treatment area, which is off-limits to anyone but staff members and their patients, technicians are split into specialized sections with the central space reserved for a group of workers manning a bank of computers. They analyze blood and fecal samples as well as throat swabs under high-powered microscopes that display images on giant screens. Anything untoward is marked for the attention of a handful of senior medics who patrol the area in green scrubs.

At the far end, another group is busy trying to replace a missing tail feather on an expensive-looking peregrine. “For each species the pattern is different, and for each feather the pattern is different,” said the technician Abdul Nasser Parolil. He reached to open a set of drawers, revealing a surprisingly broad selection of feathers of varying lengths, colors and patterns. “We have to find the right pattern,” he said....

“The way they look after their kids, they look after their falcons,” Hameed said, before correcting himself. “Actually, if their child was ill, they would send the driver, the maid or the wife to the doctor.

“But if the falcon is sick, the man of the house will go himself.”

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