Best places to meet animals in Dubai

Here are the top ways to spend time with the city’s cutest creatures

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Camel trek at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
For a true Arabian experience, you can’t go wrong with camel trekking through the desert dunes. These dromedaries, also called “the ships of the desert”, have the ability to tolerate losing more than 30 percent of their total water content, so the nickname fits quite well. There’s a sense of calm that comes with a leisurely stroll through the stunning conservation reserve, even though you’ll have to wake up quite early to experience it all. But, to make your morning that much sweeter, a breakfast picnic by the lake is included with the package, so it’s most definitely worth being woken up by your annoying alarm clock for it. There’s wildlife galore to gaze at, too, including the Arabian oryx, which, by the way, is the official national animal of the UAE.
Dhs315. Daily 7am-noon. www.arabian-adventures.com (04 809 8710).

Dog-walking for K9 friends
You’ve got a dilemma. Getting a dog means eternal joy and countless amounts of furry cuddles and sloppy licks to the face, but it also means keeping one eye open to make sure they’re not up to any mischief, along with the huge responsibility of feeding and walking them every day. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, and we all know that gutted feeling of ultimately having to put off ownership until your circumstances are better. Luckily, K9 Friends, a caring operation that focuses on rescuing and rehoming stray and abandoned dogs, while providing quality kennels and veterinary care, understands that struggle, too. So the team have set up a dog-walking programme to satisfy your desire for a pooch. It’s a great way to make a furry friend – and a non-furry one, since social interactions are a constant when you’re out in the park surrounded by other dog-walkers. And it gets you on the move, working wonders for your cardio levels. If you’re not quite ready to adopt a dog just yet, but just can’t stay away from them, this scheme by K9 Friends is the one for you. You never know, walk a dog long enough and you may just have a good boy or girl of your very own later down the line.
Free. Sat-Thu 9am-1pm. Book in advance for walks. www.k9friends.com/dogs/dog-walking (04 8878739).

Foster a cat through The Animal Project
If we’re talking about the dilemma of getting a pet, cats are probably your best option. Not just because of their irresistibly cute paws and boop-able noses, but also because they are independent creatures that very much like doing their own thing, except for an occasional cuddle here and there. The Animal Project, with a mission to promote animal awareness and alleviate suffering from animals, has set up a fostering programme for those looking for a friendly feline pal, all you have to do is sign up. While the cats are looking for a permanent home, people can take them in for a few weeks to take care of them and test the waters of what owning a cat is actually like. If everything bodes well, you may have just found yourself a new pet. Time Out Dubai gave it a go, and found wondrous success with one of us actually adopting the big ball of fur. It’s a great experience, and their mischievous acts could earn you internet fame if you catch them on camera.
Sign up for fostering online. www.friendsofanimalsdxb.com (050 918 7632).

Horse ride with Mushrif Equestrian & Polo Club
If you’ve always had a fondness for horse riding but never got the chance, or have wanted to yell “Hi-Yo, Silver!” in the right context, Mushrif Equestrian & Polo Club is just your ticket. Located near Mushrif Park, the centre caters for riders of all levels, from the accomplished to first timers. Not only does the centre offer a range of lessons for individuals or groups of all ages, it also teaches the joys of showjumping, and just how tough it can be. For those looking for a more leisurely trot to get to know these magnificent creatures desert rides are on offer, too. On special occasions, these can be done under a full moon, for those cool nights you and your trusty steed can revel in. The huge desert park makes for some gorgeous views, adding on to the experience of feeling like a true cowboy on a ride through a vast stretch of sand. On second thoughts, best not to shout any cowboy references while riding through the desert on horseback… you might gallop off into the distance, never to be seen again.
Dhs300 (single desert ride), Dhs150 (single lesson). Open daily 9am-8pm. Mushrif Park, off Al Khawaneej Road, www.mushrifequestrianclub.wordpress.com (050 103 0243).

Pet penguins at Ski Dubai
Stroke penguins in the desert? Yes you can, thanks to Mall of the Emirates’ Ski Dubai. It’s a true winter wonderland that houses the perfect habitat for our feathered swimmers, and they’re available for a little meet and greet with all who come by. If the ski centre’s busy penguin schedule isn’t fully booked, that is. There are two types of penguins that people can get to know – Gentoos, with their white “cap” extending form eye to eye, and which are the third-largest penguins in the world, and the aptly named King penguins, towering over their fellow neighbours by being the second-largest. We hope they don’t secretly heckle each other over that. Visitors who buy a Peng Friend Encounter ticket will get to see the penguins underwater in their private pool, along with their cute waddling when they’re on top deck. You also get to properly say hello to 14 different penguins with an up-close-and-personal play and training session. Just when you think things couldn’t get much cuter, you’ll leave with a nice cup of hot chocolate and an intriguing souvenir from your Peng friend.
Dhs510 (exclusive ticket, 75 minutes), Dhs860 (ultimate ticket, 90 minutes). Open daily, Sat 9am-11pm, Sun-Thu 10am-11pm, Fri 9am-midnight. Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.skidubaipenguins.com (800 386).

Play with sea lions at Atlantis The Palm
Also known as “dogs of the ocean” (contrary to their name), there’s a lot to love about charming sea lions. These slippery fellas can show off amazing feats of strength and dexterity, so much so that they can even get a bit cheeky. As in, kiss you on the cheek kind of cheeky. We’re open to that, if the smell of fish on their breath doesn’t linger. If you fancy that kind of kiss, The Sea Lion Discovery Experience at Atlantis The Palm has just that, and more. The programme includes 40 minutes of sea lion fun and education in shallow waters, starting with an orientation with a marine animal specialist, some extraordinary tricks by the sea dogs to show off their streamlined swimming capabilities and surprising strength, and then some playtime with the handsome creatures. Just make sure to wash that cheek on your way out.
Dhs680. Daily 10am-5.30pm. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.atlantisthepalm.com (04 426 2000).

Shark walk at Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Seven-hundred-and-fifty pounds of lean muscle, 300 razor-sharp teeth, skin like sandpaper and more than hundreds of millions years of existing on this planet? Yeah, we can understand why they’re called the kings of the ocean… So who in their right mind would want to swim with them? The people who realise that sharks don’t actually like eating humans. The chances of that happening are one in 11.5 million (you’re more likely to be struck by lightning). If you can muster up the courage, these creatures are absolutely breathtaking up close, and the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo’s ten-million-litre tank holds plenty of them to set your sights on. It’s the perfect chance to experience the thrill of a lifetime by coming face-to-face with the largest collection of sand tiger sharks in the world. There’s also a shark dive available, but in order to do that, you’ll need a diving certificate. But don’t fret, because the aquarium offers a short diving course with Al Boom Diving, so you can get right into that tank. Best thing about this experience? It’s at The Dubai Mall, so you can easily dive in, touch a shark and then proceed to shop for those pants you’ve been meaning to buy for ages.
Dhs630. Daily noon-3pm, 4.30pm-7pm. The Dubai Mall, www.thedubaiaquarium.com (04 3422 993).

Take lunch to turtles at Jumeirah Al Naseem
These beautiful shelled reptiles of the sea sometimes have difficulty navigating their way to the thrashing waves of the ocean from the moment they hatch, which is why The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) gives them a helping hand when in need. Unfortunately, the Hawksbill turtle, native to the Middle East, is listed as a critically endangered species, but ever since the project was set up in 2004, it has so far seen the release of more than 560 rescued sea turtles back into Dubai’s waters. What legends. DTRP is based at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and Madinat Jumeirah, and people can visit and learn a thing or two at the lagoon at Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel. Head down every day at 11am to feed them and learn more.
Free. Wed 11am. Jumeirah Al Naseem, Umm Suqeim, www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation.

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