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The Travel Detective

Voluntourism: The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

Locations in this article:  Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi is known for its modern architecture and cosmopolitan population. But to experience a completely different side of the city’s culture, a side that connects it to its roots, you have to go to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.

More than 7,000 birds a year come here and not just because they’re sick. Some of them just need a pedicure. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was established in 1999 and is the largest public falcon hospital in the world.

But why Abu Dhabi? Well, falconry has a tradition that spans hundreds of years among the Bedouins–an ancient tribal people that today populate much of the modern Arab world. Their connection with falconry continues strong today.

The hospital also accepts volunteers year-round. As a volunteer, you’ll get to watch and work alongside Chief Doctor Margit Muller as she cares for these magnificent birds. Falcon owners usually bring their birds into the hospital twice a year for checkups and grooming. Here, Doctor Muller prepares a falcon for this routine procedure. The bird is anesthetized so it doesn’t feel any pain. First, the feathers are checked in case of any breakage. Then, the toenails are trimmed and filed down. And finally, the beak is filed down. All of this is done to keep the animal healthy.

Keeping them healthy is important, because the Emiratis travel around the region on hunting trips with their birds. And when falcons travel, they do it in style. Falcons are the only animals in the world that posses their own passports. They’re also the only animals that are allowed to board our passenger planes like Etihad Airways or Emirates without a transport box–which means, they fly like you and me, as passengers.

So, if you’re thinking that a falcon would make a pretty good pet, well, start saving. Some of the most prized birds can run you as much as $70,000!

Now that may seem like a lot, but for the Emiratis, it’s about more than money. It’s about preserving a way of life that spans generations. And here at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, you can experience a piece of that ancient tradition for yourself.