Lions, tigers and, er, Nile Crocodiles? Oh my! It certainly isn’t easy to remember all of the animals at Al Ain Wildlife Park. Monkeys and chimps are sure to stand out – you’ll hear their chattering from the car park – and no child is likely to forget watching a lion roar.
As you walk through the main entrance it is hard to know which way to turn first. With 4,300 animals, including 2,500 mammals, 1,200 birds and 600 reptiles you’re going to struggle to see them all in one day. So the best thing to do is grab a map and follow the loudest noise. If that leads you into the lion’s den you’re definitely on the right track.
Set up more than 40 years ago as Al Ain Zoo by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort (AWPR) opened to give a home to the UAE’s diminishing animal life. Today it is leading the way in preserving and breeding some of the most endangered species, not just in the UAE, but the rest of the world. The park is an accredited partner of the highly respected San Diego Zoo, which acts as an advisor on all matters relating to the wildlife.
The pride of the park are the white lions, which arrived in Al Ain just over a year ago. A gift from Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa, the extremely rare big cats are part of AWPR’s carnivore conservations initiative, which is working to bring attention to some of the world’s most endangered species.
If at first the enclosure looks empty don’t go running for the Hafeet mountains. The lions will be in there somewhere and it’s well worth waiting around for a glimpse of them.
Also prowling around the lions’ den are two – not exactly cute, because they’re pretty big now – tawny lion cubs. Chewing everything in sight and playing rough and tumble with each other, they remind you of watching your own kids, just not as messy.
Returning visitors will find many more new animals to discover. Towards the end of last year 71 new deliveries, including sand cats, corn snakes, Vervet Monkeys and Arabian Oryx who all joined the pack.
A stroll around the park itself is easily worth the Dhs15 entry fee. Walking among the flowers, plants and landscaped hillocks of the recently opened Children’s Garden would be pleasant enough by itself. But add the giraffes on the horizon and squawking flamingos and this could be the UAE’s best picnic spot. There is even a fruit and vegetable garden, so you can prove to your skeptical brood that some food really does grow on trees, rather than just appearing in a packet at the supermarket. Just don’t be tempted to feed the animals. What’s good for you is pretty much guaranteed not to be good for them!
When we visited the information boards detailing the names of the animals and their origins were being updated. While this did mean a lot of ‘creative’ answers to the standard questions of who, what and, of course, why, there are plenty of staff on hand to help with the more tricky questions.
The obligatory gift shop is right near the exit so you will no doubt leave with animals (of the stuffed variety) to add to your menagerie at home.
Take your copy of Time Out Kids when you visit Al Ain Wildlife Park and see if you can spot these endangered species.
Native to the UAE, the white Arabian Oryx has black stripes on its face and stands at around 1.5 metres high. It has two long horns which can grow to 75cms long. It likes its veggies, snacking on everything from herbs, fruit, trees and roots In the wild, and can go for weeks without drinking water.
With a thick white coat and pale blue eyes, the white lions are the king of kings. The subject of many a legend in their native South Africa, these amazing animals are almost extinct in the wild.
Looking very much like your house moggy, these cuties have big ears to help them hear better when hunting. They usually come out at night, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled.
The smallest of the leopard family, this sandy coloured cat is covered in black fi ngerprint-like spots and is considered the most powerful of all Arabian cats.
The tallest mammals on earth, giraffes can grow to more than six metres tall. They love munching on acacia leaves, which they strip with their long, grey tongue.
With a tail almost as long as its body, the mongoose has long, strong claws perfect for digging up insects, worms, roots and plants. Living in groups, they ‘talk’ to each other by making a variety of sounds.
An easy one! Pretty, pink and with very, very long legs, flamingos rarely live alone. They just love company and in the wild their colonies can be made up of more than 1,000 birds.
Our closest relatives, these cheeky monkeys won’t be hard to spot as they love the attention. Hairy creatures, they have long arms and big hands and sometimes walk on their knuckles. They are as comfortable
pulling faces at visitors as they are swinging on high from rope to rope.
These crocs have long powerful tails and big, sharp teeth. Even though their legs are short, they can run as fast as 14km an hour. Snappy!
The addax’s coat changes colour from grey-brown in winter to sandy-white in the summer. It has long thin spiral horns that slant backwards and large splayed hooves to help it walk on the sand.The addax is on the critically endangered list due to hunting and habitat loss.