Remember Steve Irwin, the rugged Crocodile Hunter, who inspired a generation of animal lovers? One little girl who loves watching re-runs of his shows, is Zali Marsden. Just like Bindi Irwin (that’s the Crocodile Hunter’s daughter), Australian-accented Zali shares an intense love of all creatures great and small, so the chance to work with a team of biologists and help care for a delicate indoor rainforest ecosystem made her jump with delight.
Kitted out in her green polo shirt, name badge proudly displayed on her chest, this nine-year-old dynamo is ready to get her hands dirty, even if she is slightly worried about having to clean up animal excrement! But it’s all in a day’s work for the team at The Green Planet, and they are excited to have a little helper on their team.
The Green Planet, situated in the midst of the bustle of City Walk is open to the curious and adventurous wanting to experience the unique beauty of another world, all living under the care of a giant rainforest tree. Sara, the facility’s lead biologist, is delighted to have a new member on her crew and they set off in the early morning to do a round-up of the birds, bugs and bees to make sure they are all up and ready for the day. Zali’s first chore is to feed the millipedes and she gets stuck in straight away with a slightly nervous smile. “Ooh, his skin is so lumpy and rubbery,” she squeals. “Look at all his feet! Can we call him Lumpy?” And with that, our new little friend Lumpy chomps down on some sweet banana as Zali diligently cleans the windows of his home.
Next up, it’s bath time for the birds, and, as Zali sprays the colourful creatures, she marvels at how they puff up their feathers in enjoyment, and Sara shares a little bit about how she came to be working in such an amazing environment. “When I was six years old I told my mum that I wanted to always be around animals,” she recalls. “I just loved being outdoors, exploring the creatures that lived in our garden, in the trees and all around us, so my mum made sure to take me to as many places as she could so I could be around them.” This sounds great to Zali, who is busily making friends with Freckles and Sunshine, two bright yellow parrots who love munching chunks of apple and pear. “I love watching nature television programmes,” Zali confides as she skips alongside Sara. “You can get to see birds and animals up-close and learn so much about them. I also love looking at the birds in our garden. Once we saw a parrot – but I think it was our next-door neighbour’s pet!”
With the birds all chirping happily after their fruity breakfast, it’s time to head on over to meet a very special furry friend, a slow and sleepy sloth. But Sara tells us that, unlike its portrayal in Zootopia, Zali’s favourite movie, these furry and extremely cute creatures are not that slow at all. “It’s true sloths love their rest,” she tells us. “They sleep for most of the day, but their movements and mannerisms are not that lazy. They like to eat and play for the short time they are awake.” Encouraged by Sara, Zali helps train the sloth by using a clicker for positive reinforcement, and finishes up the session by giving it a head scratch. “We work with all of our animals to make sure they are comfortable with people through a very careful programme of training that uses positive reinforcement to cater to their needs,” explains Sara.
After a (relatively) active spell spent with the sloth, we take one last look at the indoor ecosystem that’s home to so many wonders of the animal world. We have a feeling that biologist-in-training Zali will have the animal kingdom at her feet in no time.
The Green Planet, City Walk Dubai, www.thegreenplanetdubai.com (04 317 3999).