The national bird of the UAE — falcon — can match a Ferrari, holds very high value and retains an aura of mystery. The bird has a souq of its own in Dubai.
The Falcon Heritage and Sports Centre offers a glimpse of this elusive bird and is the only place in Dubai where the birds of prey are legally sold.
Falconry is an integral part of desert life, which has been practised in the UAE for centuries and is a popular pastime where these birds are dressed to go hunting.
Located at Nad Al Sheba-Meydan Road, the centre is spread over an area of 27,500 square metres. The souq has around 20 shops where accessories such as protective gauntlets worn by handlers and the delicate hoods worn by birds when not in hunting mode are sold and there is a museum explaining the culture of falconry. The municipality-run facility acts as a centre for specialised trade and tourism in the UAE and is an ideal place for all activities related to falconry.
Upon entry, visitors are greeted by a museum dedicated to falcons. It houses life-size falcon exhibits in their natural habitats, including desert lands and waterfalls. The halls explain the types of falcons like Barbary, Saker and Gyr and the history of falconry in the UAE.
Mohammed Ahsan, security guard at the centre, said: “The place is usually empty during summer. The season starts in October, when a lot of tourists and locals start coming. Around 200 people visit the centre during the season.” There is also a section dedicated to the anatomy of the falcon. At the centre of it is an exhibit illustrating the falcon’s eye. It explains that the falcon’s eyes occupy a space within their head, which is 15 times larger than human beings and can observe a prey from a distance of 2.5km.
The first hall is used to showcase falcon sporting and its history. The second hall is dedicated to the life of falcons, its breeding and variety of falcons used for hunting. The 3D film hall focuses on the modern and traditional methods of falcon hunting in the UAE, its heritage, and training. The fourth provides information about falcon hatching, caring the health of falcons and bringing them up in cages.
The building has a falcon souq for traders and breeders. It comprises shops selling falcons and accessories for other animals as well. Built in the traditional architectural pattern, the shops surrounding the area are covered by a huge tent. The walls are adorned with murals of falcons and hunting expeditions. The HBA horse equipment has been in the souq since 2006. Manager Fazal Malik said: “We sell riding equipment, bridal wear and vitamin supplements for horses. From August 15, a lot of people come in. Around that time, people start preparing for races that start from October.”
The souq also has a model of a traditional well and is distinctively attractive due to the provision of different characteristics of a traditional market.
The centre further comprises a small mosque, a cafeteria, in addition to an area outside the souq for training in falconry and a veterinary clinic. The entire area, including the courtyard, which is covered by a tent, are centrally air-conditioned. “People start preparing for the season from August. The shops are open from 9am to 10pm everyday, except on Friday. There is a break between 12 noon to 2pm in some shops,” added Ahsan. Mohammed Shihabudin, another shopkeeper, said: “At the souq, you will find falcon accessories such as gloves and hood caps, both for when people are inside or out hunting. Our business is good for six months during the hunting season and there is a lull during summer. The price of a falcon-tracking device can range from Dh6,000 to Dh10,000. The majority of visitors are Emiratis.”
A symbol of force and courage, the falcon is well represented in many of the UAE’s national symbols including stamps, currency and the emblem of the country. This souq stands as a testament to the importance of falconry in the Arab tradition and culture.