Animal attraction in Doha
Animal attraction in Doha

The Bedouin tribes called them their ships of the desert but these camels sat long-lashed and soft-snouted in a sandy pen in fast-developing Doha, the modern capital of Qatar, on Monday morning.

The camels belong to the Emir of this Middle Eastern country, which points 130km out into the Arabian Gulf like a thumb on the hand of the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is said to like having his camels on patrol in the city, connecting the culture of his desert people to their present and future. The Al Thani family has ruled Qatar in an absolute monarchy since the mid-19th century.

Much of Qatar consists of a sandy plain, and between this, its natural gas reserves and these single-humped dromedaries, it has things in common with us in WA.

And from July 3, any connection becomes tangible when Qatar Airways begins flying between Perth and Doha, and on to an ever-growing list of now much more than 100 destinations around the world.

Which is why I'm here.

And the day has suddenly become themed with these animals.

First I'm delighted to be taken to the falcon market at Souk Waqif, and specifically to Mandoob Al Arab, a shop which deals not only in falcons but their paraphernalia.

Traditionally in the Middle East, falcons were trapped in pits, used to hunt for all-important protein and then released again after hunting season.

But today they are popularly kept as a hobby to train and fly for the owner's interest. The shop is full of jesses - the short leather straps fastened around each leg - hoods to quieten the bird, leashes, lures and the all-important falconer's glove.

There were five falcons on display for sale in Mandoob Al Arab on Monday, sitting on their perches, and the shop sells more than 400 a year, from its breeding centre, for perhaps anywhere between $5000 and $100,000 each.

Not surprising, then, that modern falconry has entered the technological age and birds now have a GPS transmitter in their body, in case they don't come back.

Not surprising, perhaps, either that looking after the bird's health is very important. Directly opposite the shop is the Souk Waqif Falcon Hospital where, in peak season, 75 to 100 falcons a day might be treated. Today, the patient list is sparse but I do watch one falcon having what Mohammed Ali first describes as cosmetic surgery on its face.

"Was it injured," I ask.

"No, its beak is just being honed."

The immaculate, four-storey falcon hospital opened only six months ago, after being converted from its previous role as a hospital for humans. It has an intensive-care unit and departments of radiography, toxicology, orthopaedics, endoscopy and the rather more giveaway "feather imping" to repair a damaged wing or tail feather by attaching part of another feather.

But the six or seven species of falcons in the Middle East are most susceptible to respiratory diseases, not to mention worms and parasites, says the amiable Dr Ali - who, like his colleagues, is specifically trained and qualified in falcon medicine.

We then visit the massive Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club complex.

Surely, alongside the camel and falcon, nothing quite conjures up the magic of this country more than a nostril-flared, long-maned and head-tossing Arab pony.

At this moment, they are rather more docile. In fact, while some are hanging out in yards near the swimming pool used for their training, others are inside in comfortable air-conditioned stables, standing on pine flakes imported from the US.

The stables also have shower and drying rooms. But then, many of the horses are worth a small fortune.

Then one snouts forward, pricks its ears and shakes its head. Its mane ripples and it gives me that wild flarey Arab pony stare.

In hours, the camel, the falcon and the Arab horse have taken me to the heart of Arabia.

·Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Qatar Airways. See his full report on Qatar Airways' new flights next Saturday.


  • fact file *

·For Qatar Airways visit qatarairways.com/au.

·Gulf Adventures runs a city tour which includes the sights of Doha and some of the visits mentioned here. Visit gulf-adventures.com

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West