Whoosh, whoosh. Feathered wings sweep through the air. A massive bird seeks a landing. It moves toward its master, claws extended. The bird lands with a jolt on the waiting arm. In the Middle East, falconry is both cultural symbol and treasured tradition.
Falconry is hunting with and training birds of prey. Falconers train birds to locate and capture wild animals—holding them for the falconer.
In many parts of the world, falconry has existed for centuries—or longer. Stone tablets from the 700s B.C. depict an Assyrian hunter, or falconer, with a large bird perched atop his outstretched arm. For possibly thousands of years, falcons and falconers hunted meat for survival in the harsh desert.
Even today, “falcons have a very special place in the heart of the Emiratis,” says Margit Muller. She is the director of a state-of-the-art falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She says, “Here, falcons are not considered birds; they are considered children of the Bedouins.” Historically, the Bedouins were nomads of the region who relied on falconry.
Falcons are highly prized animals, females being the most sought after. “The female is usually one third bigger than the male and more powerful,” says Muller. Some female falcons can cost as much as $108,000.
Falconers in the UAE spend over $27 million yearly protecting and preserving falcons at hospitals in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai. The hospital performs routine checkups, talon trimmings, and even complex surgeries, including leg and wing repairs.
In the waiting room of the Abu Dhabi falcon hospital, two birds perch grandly near owner Eid al-Qobeissy. They’re awaiting a checkup before a hunting trip. The birds wear leather hoods to keep them calm and quiet in the luxe waiting room.
“This has been a hobby of mine since 2007,” says al-Qobeissy, gently stroking one of his birds.
The Abu Dhabi facility is the largest falcon hospital in the world. It treats about 11,000 falcons yearly. Falconers from across the region visit the facility.
For falconer Salem al-Mansouri from Abu Dhabi, falconry is more than a time-consuming and expensive pastime: It’s a symbol of Emirati culture.
“Falcons were used to hunt, and you can say that it was the only method for hunting for survival . . . hundreds of years ago,” he says.
Sharing a heritage, passing along what’s seen and heard—these are principles found throughout the Bible. The Apostle Paul emphasizes teaching future generations the truths of God’s word. He also instructs Timothy to teach what he’s learned to others. (2 Timothy 2:2)
“We inherited it from our grandfathers and fathers, who taught us,” al-Mansouri says, “and now we teach the next generation.”