Visiting the pet market in Souq Waqif, one cannot fail to notice the variety of ornamental birds and fish on display along alleys lined with dozens of pet shops.
As the majority of pets on sale at the only souq in the city dedicated to them are birds and fish, one can guess the big demand for them, and many of the buyers, the traders say, are Qataris.
“Most of our customers are Qatari men because keeping these animals at home, especially the expensive ones, has become a hobby for them,” Kader, an animal trader, told this daily.
While rabbits and turtles are also available in his shop, Kader mostly sells fish, which come in various varieties.
“Qataris prefer the more expensive ones, such as the golden arowana, which is very popular in homes. A 12-inch golden arowana costs around QR3,000, compared to a silver arowana of the same length, which costs QR500,” he said.
Some Qataris are willing to spend even more on this costly hobby, buying macaw parrots that cost between QR5,000 and QR20,000, depending on the species, he added.
With its large size, colourful plumage, long tail and the ability to learn to talk and perform tricks, the macaw has been attracting Qatari buyers to the souq.
While birds and fish are in great demand among nationals, dogs and cats are not popular in their homes, traders observed.
Mohammad Imam Hussein, one of the traders, said foreigners and tourists in general liked to buy cats and dogs of different breeds, except husky dogs, which are very expensive. A small husky costs QR2,500 and the breed is mostly preferred by Qataris, he added.
Another trader, named Shaji, said expatriates also bought Syrian turtles, whose prices range between QR100 and QR150.
A number of nationals said raising animals like dogs and cats has not been a part of Qatari culture because of religious reasons as well as their customs and traditions.
The majority of Qataris prefer to keep dogs for hunting and for guarding their homes, and not as pets.
Qatari men also like keeping falcons, despite their high prices and the cost of raising them.
“GCC and Qatari citizens give much priority to raising hunting dogs and falcons because it is a part of our culture and traditions we have inherited from our grandfathers,” Rashid Al Kubaisi, a Qatari, told a local Arabic daily.
Instead of raising cats and dogs at home, Al Kubaisi said he personally preferred rabbits because his children liked them, and unlike dogs and cats they did not require much care.
When the government started organising hunting festivals and competitions involving salukis and falcons, more Qataris, including the youth, started taking interest in these creatures as they became aware of their traditions and the need to preserve them for future generations.
“People began to give them (salukis and falcons) more importance because of festivals and competitions organised by the government, encouraging people to raise these kinds of animals,” Al Kubaisi told Al Raya.
Mohammad Abdullah, another Qatari, shared the same view. Qataris don’t have a tradition of keeping animals such as cats and dogs as pets, but rather raise the latter for hunting, guarding homes and to practice their traditional sports, he said.
“Qatari youth still follow their fathers’ and grandfathers’ traditions,” he said.
The GCC region has a long tradition of sports involving salukis and falcons. Annual competitions in these sports are held around the GCC region, one of the more popular of which is the Qatar International Falcon and Hunting Festival. Running for five years now, the festival is organised by Qatar’s Al Gannas Association.
More than QR2.5m in prize money was given away during the competition’s last edition, which was held in January this year and attracted over 1,400 participants from all over the region.
Apart from the annual competitions, the traditional sports are being popularised by organisations such as the Al Gannas Association.
There is a falcon hospital and a falcon market in Souq Waqif, each a testimony to the popularity of keeping falcons, for sport and as a hobby.
A number of citizens said some Muslim clerics discourage keeping dogs at home and so they preferred to keep them only for hunting and security. In other words, dogs are meant to be kept to serve a certain purpose in the house.
Some clerics urge people not to interact with dogs unless they are raised for guarding or hunting, and this is one of the main reasons why Qataris do not raise dogs at home, said Ali Al Marri.
With regard to cats, many Qataris dislike having them at home because they believe they can spread diseases, especially to children, he added.
But with the citizens getting exposed to a multitude of cultures through interaction with expatriates, they have begun to keep pets like cats, which were not found in Qatari homes in the past.
Some of them feel that keeping pets has become a sort of lifestyle statement.
Recently, young Qatari girls have started keeping Siamese and Shirazi cats in their homes. These breeds of cats are sold in the pet market for up to QR700.
“Because of the influence of foreign culture on Qatari society, girls have begun to keep cats at home and I expect this practice will continue in future. People will start imitating other cultures, raising animals at home,” said Al Kubaisi.
Some youth have begun to keep parrots and rabbits in their homes, said Abdullah.
Qatari psychologist and columnist Dr Mozah Al Malki said that due to the influence of foreign culture and Qataris’ exposure to these animals in the local market, Qatari children and adults now wanted to keep pets at home.
“Children ask their parents to buy them and the parents buy because they think pets will help children in their learning and help them develop a caring attitude for animals,” she explained.
In addition, people feel it is safe to have pets because the government now controls the entry of these animals into the country, making sure they don’t have diseases and they are safe as pets, she said.
“The government also provides free medical services for domestic animals, such as check-ups and vaccinations in veterinary centres,” she told this daily.
She advised parents to be cautious in selecting pets, especially cats and birds, and making sure that they are free from communicable diseases and are not harmful to children.
While in other cultures it is believed that some creatures bring good or bad luck, no such belief exists in Qatari culture, she noted.