- Special Pages
By Isabel Ovalle
The Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital (SWFH) opened its doors in its current location two and a half years ago, and treats more than 9,000 patients a year. Situated in the heart of the Souq, in the area designated for falconry, this avian healthcare centre has more than 20 employees who provide the birds with five-star service.
The SWFH was established at Souq Waqif in 2008, but in late 2011, the facility was moved to a new building with three floors. The state-of-the-art facility is exclusively for falcons and treats up to eight different species of the bird of prey.
Professionals at the hospital deal with the treatment, vaccination, management and nutrition of these birds. Dr Mohammed Ali, laboratory consultant, explained that the hospital had two main sections: clinic and research.
The hospital is “something like non-profit” and funded by the government, which pays for materials and instruments. “Treatment is very cheap compared to other centres, the charges ranges from QR70 to QR400, depending on the length and type of treatment,” he said.
The hospital has 22 employees, including four veterinarians specialising in the following fields: avian, pharmaceutical, laboratory and research. During the high falconry season (from September to March), the hospital sees an average of 70 to 80 birds. The number of patients falls gradually towards the end of the season, going down to 35 to 40 and, in the summer, is reduced to approximately 25 birds.
During the season, falcons are brought to the hospital frequently for general medical check-ups or surgical procedures in case of injuries that might affect the bird’s flying performance. “The hospital does not do any breeding yet, but we intend to, in collaboration with groups of breeders in the country,” said Dr Ali.
Falcons can live up to 20 years and, during their lifetime, are frequently affected by bacterial diseases, parasites and viruses, as well as Aspergillosis, an illness which affects the lungs and can be cured if diagnosed early.
The most common falcon species in Qatar are Saker, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine and hybrid varieties. The falcons here have different origins, like Mongolia, Britain and the United States. “In Qatar, there is a big business in terms of falconry. Some owners have up to 35 falcons, while farms can have more than 250 birds,” said Dr Ali. All falcons treated at the hospital wear a chip on the chest for identification, as well as a ring on their leg which costs QR20.
Dr Ikdam Majid Al Karkhi, avian pathologist at SWFH, said that when it came to falcons, “everything can be done here; we are completely self-sufficient and house specialised diagnostic equipment that is rare outside a university or commercial laboratory.”
The hospital’s services are offered across three floors. When an owner arrives at the hospital with a falcon, they go to the ground floor, which has two examination rooms with high-definition endoscopy equipment, a radiography room with a digital X-ray machine, an imping room and a pharmacy.
In the cosmetics department, the imping specialist can restore damaged feathers by attaching parts of new feathers. For this, the hospital has a wide selection of feathers of all possible colours for all species. Screens on the wall allow the clients to see the findings of endoscopy, radiography and other types of examination.
The first floor houses a diagnostic laboratory, two surgical theatres with fluoroscopy equipment, a library and a conference room.
Dr Ali said the laboratory had sections for necropsy, clinical pathology, bacteriology, virology, molecular biology and toxicology. “We take samples from trachea and different areas of the bird and have the results in one to five days. We also do antibiotics sensitivity tests and make our own media for microbiology,” added the veterinarian.
Professionals at the hospital test to see if the bird is male or female by getting a small sample of blood. This can also be ascertained from the egg, by taking a sample from the layer beneath the shell. Males weigh between 900 and 1,400 grams, and females from 800 to 1,000 grams.
Last but not least, the basement comprises the actual hospital and quarantine facility, where falcons brought from other countries are kept for 14 days.
The SWFH has published two research papers, one of them about the size of the falcon’s heart, a characteristic that provides a lot of information about the likely flying ability of the falcon, and a second document about the hospital published by Falco, the newsletter of the Middle East Falcon Research Group.
The paper, published by both Dr Ali and Dr Al Karkhi, details the features of the hospital, enumerating the equipment at the toxicology laboratory, which include “a highly sensitive liquid chromatography mass spectrophotometer that is capable of separating and reporting the constituents of any substance.”
The doctors also specify the areas of interest at the hospital, which currently are aspergillosis; parasitology in falcons involving a deeper study into the biology and pathogenesis of common endoparasites in falcons; comparison of different available methods for the diagnosis of viral diseases; toxicology in falcons that involves in-depth understanding of dose dependent effects; and development and implementation of educational tools customised to the local clientele to promote awareness of conservation and ethical and health issues surrounding falconry in the Middle East.The Peninsula