Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there
Presidents, puppies and birds of prey are just another day in the office for Dr Margit Muller.
The “falcon whisperer” has spent 22 years at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, nurturing more than 11,500 birds a year back to good health.
When she arrived from Germany in 2001, Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital was a small team of just 20.
Today, the executive director and chief veterinary surgeon leads 140 staff members in caring for the birds, while overseeing the hospital's laboratory, pet care centre and animal shelter.
She invited The National along to the world’s biggest falcon hospital to meet her feathered friends and show us why it is her dream workplace.
Why did you decide to become a vet?
When I was five years old, I knew I would become a doctor, so I studied very hard and eventually did my PhD in falcon medicine.
I came to the UAE in 2001 to work as a vet at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and within six months I was running it.
I have a kind of intuition if a falcon is sick, I can just feel that something is wrong and that is how I got my “falcon whisperer” nickname.
When I look at them and into their eyes, it's like they are begging me for a chance, so that's what I always do.
What does your job involve?
I still treat falcons in the hospital every day. Aside from that, I look after the Abu Dhabi Animal Centre for rescue cats and dogs, and I also take care of VIP visits. It certainly never gets boring.
The falcon hospital also has a huge laboratory for medical research. In 2008, I was presented with the Abu Dhabi Award by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for discovering two new diseases in falcons and finding a cure for them.
It is the highest civilian honour in Abu Dhabi and I was so grateful to meet Sheikh Mohamed. It helped me understand how he built the UAE and share in the vision he had for the country.
What are some of the most exciting aspects?
The hospital is ranked as one of the main tourism destinations in Abu Dhabi and we’ve had a lot of high-profile visitors over the years.
Former US president George W Bush visited us in 2008 and he loved it. He was so nice and very humble, and he sent me a handwritten thank you letter afterwards. I was blown away.
We also had Queen Camilla visit us, although she was Duchess of Cornwall at the time.
She was a bit shy in the beginning because she had had a bad experience with an eagle in the past, but she soon warmed up and bonded with a very cute little owl.
She ended up staying far longer than planned and was asking amazing questions.
Being able to share our love for falcons with such esteemed guests is a privilege and it gives them a completely different understanding of our cultural heritage.
What are the most challenging parts?
The most challenging time was when I arrived at the falcon hospital 22 years ago.
The falconers were not used to having a female, western veterinary surgeon and it took time to build the trust and for them to accept my knowledge and methods.
Falcons look so majestic and magnificent, but at the same time they are so delicate and so sensitive and that is a huge challenge as a veterinary surgeon.
You have to be extremely fast and accurate in your diagnosis, and then be able to implement the correct treatment protocol as soon as possible because with falcons there is no time to lose.
What might surprise people about falcons?
Everybody thinks all falcons are the same but they're not. Each one has a very individual character, just like humans.
Some are super nice and friendly and affectionate, and others are really naughty but we know how to manage them here.
Sometimes when you pass by, they will stick their beaks out and try to nip your legs because they think you are prey.
In the past, I’ve kept falcons as pets in my home and I used to cruise around in my car with them in the passenger seat.
Now I have seven dogs, eight parrots, three budgies, nine horses and three turtles. My home is like a mini zoo, but there’s always room for more falcons.
What was your most memorable day at work?
We once had a Peregrine falcon that was hit by a car and the tyre had crushed her skull.
When she came in, everybody said it was a hopeless case but she looked into my eyes and it was like she was pleading with me to save her.
She survived a two-and-a-half-hour surgery and over the next three months I did another seven surgeries right down to reconstructing her ears.
When she went back to her owner, he couldn't believe his eyes. He was so moved and broke down in tears in the reception area.
He later took her for hunting and said she was even better than before. I was so proud of her and she lived on for many years.
If you weren’t a vet, what would you be doing?
When you have this kind of intuition, it doesn’t just remain with the birds - it also helps people.
As well as being a vet, I’m also a certified life and mental health coach, and I love helping humans as much as falcons.
In the end, you know life is not about money or material things. It is about how you can help others, either animals or people.
All that’s left of us in the end is our legacy and the impact you have on the lives of others.