We have lived in the UAE for almost six months now. Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who lives in Dubai and he asked if I had taken the kids to the Al Ain Zoo. When I said “No” he was absolutely amazed! “You know it’s one of the top zoos in the Region, if not the world!” We only live about five kilometers (three miles) away. OK, I feel guilty. Now I have to go.
So, this week I packed up the three kids (6, 4 and 2) and headed to Al Ain Zoo, along with around 5 other Al Ain expat families. Everybody LOVED it, and we didn’t even see the entire zoo. For 25 dhs admission for the 5 of us I decided that we can come back anytime we want, however if I had driven an hour plus from AD or Dubai I would have had no issue with making an entire day out of it. You can bring in your own lunch, or there is a KFC and other “Cafeteria” food available in the center of the grounds. There are plenty of picnic tables and open grassy areas to throw down a blanket and have lunch. Admission for Adults is 15 dhs, Kids are 5 dhs, and the littlest ones (I think 3 and under) are free.
Everything looks to be newly updated. The enclosures, canopies, and fencing are all modern and well- “polished.” Park/Green space is well maintained. Habitats were clean and “habitable” unlike some “zoos” that I’ve seen which are more like holding pens where cats and primates pace enough to wear down the concrete floors. This was NOTHING like that.
The zoo is comprised of a huge collection of common and rare species of animals. Deer and Arabian antelope can be seen here in large numbers. The cathouse displays pumas, lions, jaguars, and tigers, black and spotted leopards. There is a reptile house, aviary and gorilla and monkey compounds as well. There are also tree-shaded paddocks with a variety of Oryx, gazelle, lechwe, eland and African antelopes.
Background: Shaikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the first President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was born in Al Ain. He became somewhat of an expert of the area’s geography, and when oil was discovered in the 1930’s it was Shaikh Zayed who guided the oil companies around the desert. He loved the desert and had a deep respect for all life in the desert and also recognized the need to respect and conserve the local habitat. He made the following observation;
“On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so because they recognized the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations.”
The 400 hectare (988 acre) Al Ain Zoo was founded by Shaikh Zayed and opened in 1969. Of course, I can’t comment on the park prior to last week, but I’m sure its condition then was not anywhere as nice as it is today, mostly due to the $1 Billion grant reportedly being used to more than double the size of the park and add a resort hotel within the next two decades. The name has since been changed to Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort which will occupy more than 900 acres when complete.
For now, the zoo remains a nice, but not ostentatious. It’s obvious that there have been recent upgrades. The facilities are top notch. Two years ago I visited the San Diego Wildlife Park and thought that the AWPR was on par with SDWP facilities. (In fact, AWPR has relationship with the San Diego Zoo, which is assisting with the aggressive Conservation & Breeding program and is surely using design ideas as well.)
Just yesterday they asked me again, “When are we going back to the zoo? You said we could go again soon!” I guess that means they liked it, and I guess that means that we will be back very soon.