This weeks blog post is here to give you an idea of the places in the Emirates you can visit to experience wildlife. I know a lot of people do not condone zoos, but the places on this list are making tremendous efforts to boost conservation and ensure that these animals are around for future generations to experience. The attractions listed in this post all offer an opportunity to see animals that you would otherwise never get to see, and are great places for educating children.
The Arabian Wildlife Centre, is a part of the Sharjah Desert Park complex (GPS 25.280217, 55.696037) located approximately thirty minutes from Sharjah city centre, on the Al Dhaid Road. The Desert Park complex also contains a children’s zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum – all of which can be visited after paying the small entrance fee at the main gate. Unfortunately the desert park can be a little tricky to find, as it is not even signposted from the main road, which is such a shame because it is a great place to visit and should not be overlooked.
Upon arrival at the Arabian Wildlife centre, you will be informed by the staff that no photos can be taken whilst touring the exhibits, this is understandable, but unfortunate (as we are unable to show you in this blog what you will experience). The centre houses the world largest collection of Arabian wildlife and all of the animals that you will see can be found on the Arabian Peninsular. Unlike a lot of museums and zoos in the region, all of the enclosures are clearly marked and very informative about the species within, providing you with the vital statistics about the animal.
The enclosures start off small with the reptiles, invertebrates and aquatics – all of which are housed in beautifully clean tanks which replicate their environment (whether that be mountainous, desert or aquatic). The monitor lizards are of certain interest as the large enclosure is open, so that you can get a real feel for the animals and their habitat. Upon completing this section, you will move into the desert environment, which consists of a large room which has been transformed into an arid desert landscape. The room is full of free roaming birds, which you walk amongst on an elevated walkway. Children especially will love this section due to its interactivity with the animals and the ability to see species such as flamingos in such close proximity. The path weaves its way into a dark cave where you can witness bats flying (they are behind glass) which really adds to the ambiance of the cave-like-atmosphere. There are also a number of enclosures in this section which are not interactive such as the Arabian fox which is obviously behind glass for your safety, as well as its own!
Next you will enter the nocturnal section, which in our opinion is one of the best of its kind that we have experienced in the world. This section houses everything from porcupines, to foxes, and gerboa. Each enclosure is lit with ultra-violet light to enhance your ability to see the animals within. A lot of thought has been given to each animals environment and these large enclosures replicate the conditions in which these species would reside in the wild.
Once you emerge into daylight again, you can take a break in the cafe, though not necessarily for the food (which is actually one of the cheapest places you can eat out in the UAE), but for the design of the cafe itself. The walls are made up of floor-to-ceiling glass which gives you a complete panoramic view of the outside area, which consists of a large desert landscape, with a water hole and mountainous area – full of wild animals. You will see oryx, gazelle, flamingos and ostriches amongst many other species. You get to watch the animals in a natural environment, without actually having to experience the outside heat for yourself! You could easily spend a great amount of time here admiring the animals whilst you snack or grab a cup of coffee.
The final section of this centre includes the larger animals such as wolves and Arabian leopards. The animals tend to come quite close to the glass in this area so you really do get to see these majestic beasts in quite close proximity. The best thing about a visit to the Arabian Wildlife centre, is the fact that it’s all indoors, thus making a perfect escape from the summer heat, and a place that can be experienced all year round. It is criminal that this place is not further boosted by an advertising campaign to promote tourism. There is no social media presence and the website holds very little information – the upside of which, is that it is never crowded, but it is unfortunate that more people do not know about this place. The entrance fee is 15AED and includes all areas of the Desert Park. Opening hours are 9am – 6pm Sundays to Thursdays / Friday 2pm – 6pm / Saturday 11am – 6pm & Tuesdays it is closed.
Al Ain Zoo (GPS: 24.179594, 55.739771) is the largest and oldest zoo in the UAE founded over forty years ago. Situated in a marvellous location at the base of the Jebel Hafeet mountain. It is located in Al Ain (approximately ninety minutes drive from either Dubai or the Capital) and easy to find by following the brown tourist signs located throughout the Garden City. Upon arriving the first thing you will notice is the excellent customer service displayed by the staff of the zoo, they are all very friendly and will go out of their way to ensure that you have a pleasant visit.
Once through the ticket barriers the first exhibit you encounter is one of the most important in the park, the mixed-Arabian display. This contains the native oryx which is a desert dwelling animal, of which there are apparently only five hundred left in the wild. As you make your way along the shaded walkways you will notice just how pleasant it is to be outside and to see the animals in a semi-natural environment. Passing through the big cat section you will see lions, pumas and the famous white tigers which can only be found in captivity.
The zoo also includes ostriches, monkeys, lemurs and hyenas – all of which you will pass on your way to the mixed-African exhibit, which is probably the most popular section of the zoo. This is a large enclosure which contains free roaming giraffes, rhinoceros, zebras, and antelope – there is also a high hide which you climb to get an aerial view of the area which backs all the way onto Jebel Hafeet.
As you continue past the hippopotamus, you will notice just how much green space there is in the zoo (and you are more than welcome to bring a picnic and relax on the grass areas during your visit). Of great interest to most visitors is the giraffe feeding area, which though costing an additional thirty dirhams, is an essential experience allowing yourself and your family to get up close and personal with these graceful creatures. The giraffe feeding is located next to the reptile house which, like the nocturnal area, are the only indoor parts of the zoo. Unfortunately both are rather disappointing and could do with some renovation and upgrades.
The final large exhibit is the mixed-Australian exhibit famous for its inquisitive emu, amongst others. There is also a petting zoo with popular farm animals, which also offers the opportunity to walk with tortoises or ride a camel. This section along with the playground, will be very popular with those of you who have young children.
The zoo itself is very large and will take a minimum of two hours to navigate on foot. Thankfully your ticket price includes a free ride on the train, which weaves through the park allowing you the view the animals in a bit of comfort. There is also the opportunity to hire private electric cars (for an additional fee), so you can drive your family around the zoo at you own leisure.
Our favourite part of our most recent visit, is the the daily bird show, which is currently being held at 6pm. This show displays some of the zoos largest birds including falcons, owls, eagles and vultures as they soar over the audiences heads – the show lasts for approximately half an hour and is very informative. Zoo admission is 20AED for adults and 10AED for children, opening hours vary depending on the season, currently the zoo is open from 4pm – 10pm which gives opportunity to encounter the animals during daylight and nighttime hours.
Al Ain Zoo is currently undergoing an extensive expansion project, which is due for completion by the end of this year. This includes the African Safari which will offer visitors the chance to observe herds of animals and individuals, up close and from a distance. Inspired by the African safaris of Kenya, visitors are immersed in nature, travelling in a safari vehicle that moves through the exhibit providing guests with first-hand interactions and the sights, sounds and smells of the animals in their landscape. Local media, reports the addition of a ‘cheetah run’ which will allow visitors to watch the animal’s “live” run (the cheetah will have a 120m long race track with a lure system). This will include an amphitheater for approximately 250 people from where visitors can watch the run and see the animal’s acceleration. The final forthcoming addition to the zoo is the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre – located adjacent to the future main entrance of the Al Ain Zoo, the centre will be an exhibition and exploration of the natural and cultural history of the Arabian deserts. A cross between a museum and a science centre, the scheme is a tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed, and will contain interactive displays about the UAE’s wildlife and culture. All of these additions are currently under development and some may incur an additional fee, we will bring you all the latest news and developments on this as soon as the information becomes available.
Emirates Park Zoo (GPS 24.547270, 54.674594) is located in Bahia on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi and is often overlooked by visitors to the Emirates. This is a mistake, as upon our recent visit, we were amazed at the variety of animals present, and the experiences offered. From the outside, the park looks deceptively small, and even as you enter, you believe that you’re restricted to a small courtyard area containing monkeys and a mini-zoo. It is not until you actually begin wandering around that you realize just how much there is on offer, and how the space has been cleverly maximized to ensure that visitors can see as much as possible. The main courtyard includes the bird park which contains parrots, the indoor aquarium and reptile houses (which are very modern and well kept), the primates park containing the monkeys, and a cave like system that is home to the bears and tigers.
The highlight though is the giraffe park, where there is an undercover section with picnic benches where you can stop to eat, and the giraffes will poke their heads in so close that you can touch them or feed them. The giraffes here are very inquisitive and are in an enclosure that also contains zebras and other African animals.
Once you have completed the courtyard section of the park you may think that you are finished but you would be wrong – there is still much more to see. Following the steps you will pass through ‘snake alley’ which is home to seven different species of snake. This then opens out into the flamingo park, sea lion section, and the big cats, where you will see lions and tigers. The star attraction of the zoo though are the Indian elephants – purely because this is the only zoo within the UAE that they can be found.
Our favourite thing about Emirates Park Zoo is just how interactive it is. There are ample opportunities for getting close to the animals and food is readily available for purchase, allowing you to feed some of the creatures too. Daily activities on offer include: parrot presentations, a bird of prey show, reptile presentations, big cat training, crocodile feeding, a sea lion show and elephant encounters. We participated in the elephant feeding which was a great experience, as you feed buckets of bananas to the zoos resident elephants – as one of the keepers gives you information about them.
Emirates Park is more of a resort as it also includes a hotel. The cabins of the hotel back onto the giraffe park, so you can sit in your room and see the animals roaming past your window, which is surely a unique experience. Ensure you check Groupon as discounted tickets for the zoo are often on offer. Emirates Park Zoo is open 365 days of the year from 9am – 9pm. Adults 30 AED & children are 20 AED (under two’s go free)
Lost Chambers Aquarium: (GPS 25.131837, 55.118328) located out at Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah is a beautiful aquarium, which is probably the most aesthetically pleasing of all the wildlife attractions in the Emirates. Designed to look like the underwater city of Atlantis, the aquarium really makes you feel as if you are walking amongst submerged ruins. The exhibits here are immaculate and the tanks are really clean, giving you an unparalleled view of the ocean animals held within.
The Lost Chambers is said to hold over 65,000 marine animals from sharks and rays, to eels and crabs. Children will love the jellyfish and seahorse areas, as well as the interactive touch tanks where you are able to touch some of the creatures. As you walk around the dimly lit passages, information is provided to you via touch screens. Eventually you arrive at the crown jewel of the aquarium which is the ‘Ambassador Lagoon’ – the largest open air aquarium in the Middle East. Here you can sit on a majlis and gaze upon an undersea world via huge floor to ceiling windows, providing a very serene ambiance. If you timed correctly you may well be there for feeding time.
Activities on offer include ray feeding, or diving in the shark tank, which are available at an additional charge. The only downside to the aquarium is that it is a little small, and can easily be explored in less than an hour. Lost Chambers is open daily from 10am – 10pm. Adults cost 100AED and children cost 70AED.. UAE residents do get discount.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (GPS 25.196368, 55.278166) housed within the Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world) is more than just the tunnel! I have heard many people say that it is not worth going to, as you can see as much from the outside (for free), as you can from the inside. This is not entirely true. Walking through the tunnel really is an immersive experience which takes you deep into the undersea world, a tour guide provides you with a lot of interesting information, and you can even see the sharks being fed above you. The tank itself contains over ten million litres of water and over three hundred sharks and rays. The glass of the tunnel measures fifty one meters in length, twenty meters in width, and eleven meters in height – making it one of the largest pieces of glass in the world!
Once through the tunnel, head upstairs to view the underwater zoo – a collection of animals held within a faux-rain forest environment. You will see piranha, otters, and some extremely large water rats. There is also a wave pool which replicates the ocean reefs, jellyfish and a large penguin exhibit. The latest addition to the underwater zoo is ‘King Croc’ – a forty year old crocodile, over five meters in length and weighing approximately seven hundred and fifty kilograms! King Croc really is huge and has recently had a new addition to the family in the form of a baby crocodile. You can view the crocodiles from an underwater vantage point, or from above, where a glass floor leads you across the crocodiles home.
The zoo has maximized space by continuing its rain-forest theme with a treetop walkway leading to the ‘UAE Night Animals’ exhibit – children will love clambering across the hanging rope bridges to see the final section of this zoo. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is open daily from 10am – midnight. Entry starts at 75AED for adults and 55AED for children, but prices increase if you add in extras such as a glass bottom boat tour, or fish feeding experience.
Dubai Safari will be coming to Dubai sometime in 2016 and we are really looking forward to it! Work has already begun on this safari park located close to Dragon Mart on Al Awir Road. Gulf News recently reported that the park is 30% complete and once finished will house over one thousand animals. Allowing you to get up close and personal with the animals, whilst riding in air-conditioned jeeps on a tour lasting over an hour. This will give the guests a chance to come up close to the park’s animals and get to see how they react in their environment. We will bring you more details on this as the become available.
Please bookmark this entry as we plan to update it with further wildlife adventures in the coming months including: Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, Ras Al Khor Sanctuary, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Sharjah Aquarium & The Kalba bird Of Prey Centre.
All views within this blog are our own & unless otherwise stated, all photos are © Out & About UAE