Lengthy earlier than the World Cup, falconry was Qatar’s nationwide sport

Souq Waqif, Doha’s historic market, unrolls from the close by bay like a roll of treasured material. A medieval maze of slim streets linked to a large important sq., the Souq has lengthy served as a buying and selling publish for Bedouins arriving by camel and vacationers in small boats.

However as we speak, as one of many final within the metropolis that survive historic city areas, the Souq additionally serves the quickly modernizing emirate as a hyperlink to a fading historical past and tradition. Nowhere is that conflict of previous and current extra evident than on the market’s falcon hospital, a state-of-the-art medical facility devoted to caring for animals which have been revered right here for hundreds of years.

“In Qatar, falcons are an emblem of dignity, valor and pleasure,” stated Dr. Ikdam M. Alkarkhi, Iraqi-educated hospital director and veterinary marketing consultant. “For the Arabs, falconry was a lifestyle the place each family, no matter their social or tribal standing, loved the presence of falcons round them. Falcons could be thought of a part of the household.”

Greater than 1.2 million individuals are anticipated to flood Qatar between November. 20 and Christmas for the World Cup, the world championship of a sport little appreciated within the nation only a technology in the past. Falconry, nevertheless, has been the nationwide sport since lengthy earlier than Qatar grew to become a nation.

And it is a cultural touchstone that Qataris are desperate to share with guests.

Khodr Allah, a Pakistani living in Qatar, poses for a photograph with his geranium.

Khodr Allah, a Pakistani resident of Qatar, poses for {a photograph} along with his geranium on the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar.

(Lujain Jo/Related Press)

Falconry within the Center East dates again greater than 5,000 years and was launched to the sandy Arabian peninsula that grew to become Qatar by humble Bedouin tribes. Nomads used the birds to hunt prey such because the Houbara bustard, a big and quick chook that has been hunted so aggressively that it’s now an endangered species in Qatar.

The abilities the Bedouins discovered whereas looking ultimately grew to become the idea of the game nonetheless practiced in Qatar. But when that sport hasn’t modified over the centuries, nearly all the things else in falconry has.

It’s not a pursuit for humble tribes, for instance, however a pastime for the wealthy, which in Qatar is nearly everybody, because the nation’s residents have the very best per capita revenue on the earth and pay nothing for electrical energy. land, water or well being.

Falcons are the quickest members of the animal kingdom, able to reaching speeds of over 240 mph throughout dives. And the prized birds, a lot of that are imported to Qatar, are offered in markets or via personal merchants for tens of 1000’s of {dollars}.

Vets at Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar, work on a Falcon.

Vets at Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar, work on a Falcon.

(Lujain Jo/Related Press)

“The desire will depend on the genes,” Alkarkhi stated. “You may’t decide the desire of 1 over the opposite, so the homeowners of farms that cross should select the distinctive traits of the chook earlier than continuing with its breeding. Qatari falconers have excellent information about falcons and their illnesses.”

Gear used within the sport, reminiscent of four-wheel drive autos and radio screens, can price a whole bunch of 1000’s extra, so falconry has gone from one thing Bedouin did to place meals on the desk to a standing image, with princes and emirs competing to purchase or breed the perfect birds, a few of that are valued within the tens of millions.

It additionally brought on the occasional diplomatic rift. Members of Qatar’s Al-Thani ruling household had been arrested three years in the past and accused of stalking treasured birds throughout a falconry journey to Pakistan in 2019. 4 years earlier, 26 Qataris, together with members of the ruling household, had been kidnapped in at gunpoint and held for 16 months earlier than being launched in Iraq after advanced negotiations that additionally included the evacuation of civilians from war-torn Syria.

A peregrine falcon awaits a procedure at the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital.

A peregrine falcon awaits a process on the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar.

(Lujain Jo/Related Press)

Defending the investments of the royal household and the commoners explains why hospitals like Alkarkhi deal with as much as 150 falcons a day. Throughout peak season, from September to February, the hospital’s ready room hawk perch is usually so crowded that it wants its personal ready room.

“They’re a part of the household. If one thing occurs to him [them]they take him to the hospital for a checkup and vital companies,” Alkarkhi, who has a grasp’s diploma in avian pathology from Baghdad College, stated of his purchasers.

The hospital, which opened in 2008, might maintain its personal towards any fashionable human medical facility, with X-ray and gene sequencing machines and tools to carry out endoscopies and course of blood, stool and kidney samples. The workers of practically two dozen, most of whom are foreign-born, can deal with greater than 200 companies, from beauty procedures reminiscent of beak changes and feather replacements to invasive surgical procedure, Alkarkhi stated.

Feather boxes at a Falcons hospital in Doha, Qatar in September 2022.

Feather containers at Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Occasions)

On a latest summer season morning, veterinarians and technicians wearing white lab coats or inexperienced and blue medical scrubs with the round emblem of the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital on the left chest bustle between spacious examination rooms and desks topped with computer systems and high-powered microscopes. . A person, sporting a yellow leather-based glove as safety towards razor-sharp claws, led a hawk down one of many broad corridors.

For the reason that three-story facility is sponsored by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, Alkarkhi stated visits to the hospital can price as little as $5.

However the true therapy does not cease with healthcare. A Saudi prince as soon as purchased particular person seats on a business flight for 80 of his falcons. No less than 4 Center Japanese airways (Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Royal Jordanian airways) enable falcons to fly in the principle cabin of their planes, so long as they’ve a ticket and passport to show they don’t seem to be being stolen.

UCLA historical past professor James Gelvin, creator of “The Arab Uprisings: What Everybody Must Know,” stated Qatar’s consideration and funding in falconry is vital for a younger nation looking for an identification and a spot on the world stage. .

A doctor at the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar, examines a Falcon's arm.

A physician on the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital in Doha, Qatar, examines a Falcon’s arm.

(Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Occasions)

That is why a 7½-ton, 40-foot metal and aluminum statue of a fearsome-looking, if kitschy, falcon was put in exterior the departures terminal of Doha Worldwide Airport final yr. And that is why town’s fashionable Katara Cultural Village has been organizing an annual falconry exhibition each September since 2017, attracting greater than 180 corporations from 20 nations to advertise the game and the tradition that surrounds it.

“You’ve falconry, you’ve gotten dates, you’ve gotten pearls,” Gelvin stated, ticking off three historic pillars of regional tradition that predate the institution of any Arab Gulf nation. “All these states are new. So what they should do is invent some sort of previous.

“Within the historic career it’s referred to as the invention of custom. Choose a practice and say, “Hey, we’re Scottish, so we’ll put on kilts.” And that is going to be actually vital for us as a result of that is our nationwide identification.” [Or] “We’re Qataris, so falconry is vital to us.” In reality, it’s an integral a part of the state-building course of that’s going down.”

Which is one other means of claiming it is not only for the birds.

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