Amidst the biting cold, there is always a good reason to stay here in Al Ain. Trying to be at par with modern zoological parks in the world is the Al Ain Zoo, which has 68 species of mammals, 88 species of birds and 35 species of reptiles to date. It has been renovated last summer and is now set to give outright education and fun.
“Together with the Al Ain Zoo Technical Committee, I have conducted rapid improvements and implemented a series of programs for the development of the zoo,” said Mark Craig, Director of the Al Ain Zoo. “We were trying to resemble what you see in the wilds of Africa. We have added green areas and picnic areas, and upgraded our services as well from our toilets to our restaurant areas to our shade facilities. Right at the zoo entrance, we have placed exhibits such as the Mixed Arabian exhibit, where the Arabian Gazelle and the Arabian Oryx together in a landscape that looks like the wild; and the Mixed African and Savannah Exhibit, where we have 70 different species of animals from Africa. In the coming weeks, we will put up an education centre to look after students visiting the zoo. This will be really a new experience for the public as they would engage themselves in education and entertainment at the same time,” he added.
Currently, the 850-hectare wildlife sanctuary has only its 50 hectares open to visitors. “But it’s still big. Any zoo beyond 50 hectares is really big. We call it the ‘Core Zoo’,” said Craig who had been a keeper in Adelaide Zoo in South Australia when he began his career in 1985. Within 23 years of his service there, he became the zoo’s Bird Supervisor, Curator, Manager of Life Sciences, and Director. He also managed the Monarto Zoological Park, a 1000-hectare open range zoo in South Australia.
Craig’s love for animals materialized in the zoo. "Passion for animals and wildlife has always been with me. Whenever I travel in my travels in Southeast Asia, Europe and Australia, I study the animals there and visit their zoos. The first species that I was made to look after were penguins. And then I worked with reptiles.”
About Dh35 million was allotted for the zoo’s development last year. And along with the reconstruction of its appearance is the restructuring of its objectives. “Part of our program is to improve the welfare of the animals. It’s no good bringing in an animal that likes things we cannot provide here. I believe that a zoo can be a resource not only for recreation but also for wildlife education and conservation as well,” Craig explained.
Aside from increased awareness on the needs of animals, the zoo intends to educate the public by letting them see the animals in their natural habitats while informing them of their individual needs and sensitivities. “Zoos provide better entertainment. For Dh10 only, you can have a whole day of fun. You have the real thing. You can watch the animals. You can smell the animals. You can also learn something and get exercise,” the Director said.
Al Ain Zoo was established in 1968 by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Some of the animals that thrive in the zoo are the leopards, giraffe, crocodiles, gibbons, lions, Arabian wolves, African gazelles, gorillas, cheetahs, ostriches, Barbary sheep, ibexes, servals, flamingos, baboons, Mohr gazelles, patas monkeys, gemsboks, green monkeys, cats and tortoises. It is open from 8 o’ clock in the morning to 6 o’ clock in the evening. Entrance free for the adults are Dh10 while children (from 6-15 years) need only to pay Dh5. Children under 6 years, on the other hand are free, and the zoo purchased wheelchairs for them upon request.