Saudi falcons find relief at Abu Dhabi bird hospital

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Prized female Saker falcons in flight, above. Dr. Margit Muller examines a new admission to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital as she prepares to draw up a treatment plan, below. (Getty)
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Prized female Saker falcons in flight. (Getty Images)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Saudi falcons find relief at Abu Dhabi bird hospital

  • Dr Margit Muller treats hundreds of injured falcons from the Kingdom each year, many of them flown in by private plane
  • The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was the first and largest hospital in the world dedicated to the bird of prey

DUBAI: As the national bird of Saudi Arabia, the falcon is both a symbolic marker of the country’s culture and tradition and a treasured pet to many of its residents — and it is the job of one Abu Dhabi avian expert to tender to hundreds of injured birds of prey flown in from the Kingdom each year.
On any given week, about 10 injured birds are transported from Saudi Arabia — many by private plane — to be treated by the expert hands of Dr. Margit Muller, executive director of Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the world’s first hospital dedicated to the falcon.
An expert in the specialized field of avian medicine, Dr. Muller’s extensive knowledge means she is in constant demand to treat injured falcons from all over the world. She treats about 10,000 birds of prey annually, of which at least 500 — predominately the Saker falcon, the largest species of falcon — are from Saudi Arabia.
“Due to our international reputation as the largest falcon hospital in the world, our very advanced treatment methods and the latest technical equipment, every year we receive more and more falcons from Saudi Arabia for examination and treatment,” said the German-born avian expert.
“Most of the falcons that we received from Saudi Arabia are Saker falcons as they are the favorite hunting falcons in Saudi Arabia. Most travel by car or private plane. For a sick falcon, it is faster to come to us by plane than by car, which reduces delays until the treatment.”
Many Saudi Arabian owners are often distressed as they consider the falcon an integral “part of the family,” explained Dr. Muller.
“The vast majority of falcon owners consider and treat their birds like their own sons and daughters,” she said. “Their falcons occupy a special place in their homes — and even in their cars.”
“Therefore, the falcon owners are very much emotionally attached to their birds, as they really love them very much. Here at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital we often experience very distressed owners whose falcon has come in with an accident. They wait in our reception area until the emergency surgery is finished, even during night hours, just to see their falcon waking up again.
Only then they are relieved enough to go home again. ”Moreover, falconers bring their birds to Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital even when they notice the slightest problem — like sneezing or vomiting — because they are extremely concerned and worried about their beloved falcons.”
They are also a valuable asset. Dr. Muller estimates that the average value of a falcon can range anywhere from SR20,000 ($5,300) to SR50,000.
“The price of a falcon depends on its breed and gender, as females are more prized because they are bigger and better for hunting, as well as being more beautiful,” she explained. “Moreover, in captive-bred falcons, the breeder’s reputation also plays a role in the price of the falcon.
“However, there are falcons that are considered to be very special and beautiful. They may cost more than SR100,000.”
Dr. Muller, who fell in love with falcons when she was training to be a vet and took a two-month internship in Dubai before obtaining a doctorate in veterinary medicine, said there is now about a 20 per cent increase year-on-year in the number of birds passing through Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
Every day she will treat dozens of feathered patients with differing injuries or illness.
“In Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, we have treated many different kinds of injures,” she said. “Some of the cases that are being treated are falcons that have encountered major accidents, such as being hit by a car, have leg fractures, or are suffering from a bacterial and viral infection or a bleeding nose. They may be showing symptoms of being very weak, tired and emaciated, or are suffering from Aspergillosis (a fungal disease that affects the lung and leads to major breathing difficulties and loss of flight performance, and is potentially fatal).”
Dr. Muller said that her first step when interacting with a new patient is to examine the falcon to establish the correct diagnosis and treatment plan.
“Care and medical rehabilitation for falcons will depend on the bird’s medical condition, and ranges from normal hospitalization in our hospital wards, up to stays in our ICU for critically ill falcons,” she explained.
“They require 24-hour special care as well as specifically designed treatment protocols and special feeding programs.”
“In the case of bacterial upper respiratory tract infections, the falcon should be under medical care for one week. However, an injured falcon requiring surgical repair for a broken leg or wing should be under medical care for a month.”
Falcons who moult — the cyclic replacement of feathers by shedding old ones, while producing new ones in their place — usually stay for a minimum of six months.
“Here at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, we have a very scientific moulting facility and it is really a big hit for falcons during moulting season,” she said. “Therefore, every year we receive more and more falcons from Saudi Arabia as their owners would like their falcons to stay in a professional and caring place during the moulting time.”
Dr. Muller, who concentrated her thesis on foot disease in falcons and also has a diploma in veterinary homeopathy, became director of the ADFH in 2001.
“I always found falcons highly interesting and fascinating,” she said, with a smile. “When I came into contact with falcons during my veterinary medicine studies, I was so immediately attracted to them. The look in falcons’ eyes is like magic.”
After deciding to be a falcon specialist, Dr. Muller went on to share her experience with other veterinarians and falcon rehabilitation experts throughout the world by publishing her book “Practical Handbook of Falcon Husbandry and Medicine.”
Every day is a new challenge, she explains, but her work — which has earned international recognition — is something she says she is thankful for every day.
“There are always special cases of falcons, especially those which are very hard to treat, such as major accidents and fractures. The harder the case and the more the falcons suffer from an injury or disease, the more likely I get attached to them.
“It is beyond words to describe how much the falcons fight for their survival and how much they communicate their need of help through their eyes.
“The moment I look into their big black eyes, I am immediately attached to them and try my very best to help them as much as I can to save their life.
“It is what I feel I am here for.”


Doo doo doo doo doo doo: ‘Baby Shark’ bites into the culture

Updated 13 December 2018
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Doo doo doo doo doo doo: ‘Baby Shark’ bites into the culture

  • The song has a catchy rhythm and it uses silly sounds as well as colorful and cute animation
  • In the wise words of James Corden, there comes along a song every so often that defines a generation

NEW YORK: In the wise words of James Corden, there comes along a song every so often that defines a generation.
Doo doo doo doo doo doo.
The late-night TV host, carpool karaoke king and father of three young children was referring specifically, and wryly, to “Baby Shark,” now the bloodthirstiest of earworms for some parents and meme lovers everywhere.
Insert shark hands here.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve been living inside a sea anemone since at least 2015. That’s when an educational content brand in South Korea, Pinkfong , released its first shark video, later breaking the Internet with a version mixing animation and two adorable human kids dancing out the story of a shark family, K-pop style, earning more than 2 billion views on YouTube.
If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t spent enough time at summer camp or around a campfire, where singalong versions of said story with said gestures, akin to an old nursery rhyme with the same theme, have rocked on for decades.
Now, thanks to the #babysharkchallenge that has us all singing, doing our shark hands and sharing on social media, and thanks to piles of soft shark heads, toddler attire and other swag that includes singing plush toys and books, “Baby Shark” is a full-on craze, for bite-size fans anyway.
“Our toddler’s shark video addiction is a huge issue in our household,” said Columbus, Ohio, mom Kitty French. “At first it was a cute melody. Now it’s an earworm that literally all of our parent friends understand.”
Not all grown-ups are weary. If they were, would they continue to upload themselves in mashups and mixes, from R&B to Santa Claus? Can we do without the absolutely cutest home video of them all, the little girl begging Alexa to play her favorite shark jam, frustrated by the not-so-smart device’s inability to understand? What about the Texas family so enamored they synchronized their blinking, blinding holiday yard lights to the snappy tune?
Some parents of special needs kids think “Baby Shark” has not only entertained but helped their young ones.
Holly Anderson is a Utah mother of four, including a 3-year-old son with autism and apraxia of speech. His autism therapist uses children’s songs on YouTube to motivate him to sit still and was the first to show him “Baby Shark.”
“He’s overstimulated visually and usually won’t watch any shows on TV or the iPad,” Anderson said. “He has a very difficult time staying still, even for a moment, and usually spends his time running around in therapy. I’m honestly not sick of it yet since it’s one of the only ways to get him calm after a meltdown.”
The one he likes the most is by Pinkfong, she said. The company has put up more than one version. Other parents said their kids prefer versions of baby, mama, papa, grandma and grandpa shark from a content provider called Super Simple. There are many, many other offerings to choose from and many, many more millions of views than the jackpot scored by Pinkfong for its dance version.
Corden, host of “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” isn’t the only celebrity to take on baby shark madness. He enlisted Sophie Turner and Josh Groban to perform the song on air . Ellen DeGeneres put her spin on the song on her talk show as well and Simon Cowell’s 4-year-old son popped up on the “X-Factor UK” as dancing cuteness ensued with singing kids accompanied by adults in shark suits for the opening of the grand final this year.
Bob Cunningham, an educator and senior adviser for the nonprofit consortium Understood.org, which supports parents of kids with learning and attention issues, sees several benefits to “Baby Shark.”
“The song has a catchy rhythm and it uses silly sounds as well as colorful and cute animation,” he said. “Also, both the music and the animation are predictable, with repeated words, phrases, colors and movements.”
The combinations can capture and sustain attention even in children where attention isn’t a strength, Cunningham said. The song and video also engage most of the senses simultaneously and combine language with music and movement, which can appeal to kids who struggle with any of those things when they are presented in isolation. For example, the movement can support less developed language and the music can offer support when movements are difficult, he said.
Clearly, other kid content can do the same, but “Baby Shark” ruled at Jason Simms’ house, at least for a time.
Simms, who lives in Deep River, Connecticut, said his 14-month-old daughter Fionnuala first heard the song when she was 8 months old but has since tired of it, before her parents did, once her language comprehension skills began kicking in.
“It was one of the first things in life she directly expressed a preference for, so that’s why we picked it for her Halloween costume,” he said. “At the end of the Super Simple version, it says ‘bye bye sharks’ and that became how we say bye in our family. She now fusses when she hears it.”
But there’s plenty more fish in the “Baby Shark” sea.
A Montreal-based company, WowWee, has a Pinkfong license for North America to sell the shark family in plush toys that sing when tummies are squeezed, along with soft song cube versions. Available exclusively on Amazon on pre-order that guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas, they sold out in two and a half days earlier this month, said Davin Sufer, WowWee’s chief technology officer.
Sufer would not disclose how many units were gobbled up at $19.99 each. More will be rolled out at a broader range of retailers come early 2019, along with new offerings. Third-party sellers who nabbed the toys are now offering them for more than $100 on Amazon.
The privately-held WowWee was already in talks with Pinkfong as far back as nearly a year ago when “Baby Shark” truly exploded, said Sufer, who has three kids of his own, including a 9-year-old daughter who came home from camp last summer singing the song before she knew his involvement.
“The tune itself has an addictive quality to it,” he said. “You hear it once or twice and you hear yourself singing, doo doo doo doo doo doo. I could see maybe parents getting a little tired of it, but kids aren’t.”