UAE nature reserves

Time Out dons its khakis and takes a walk on the wild side at some of the best nature reserves the UAE has to offer

Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort

Can’t wait until 2011 for Al Ain’s safari options to open? Fear not, there’s still plenty to do and see at the UAE’s top game reserve, most notably the night safari. ‘The night safari?’ you say. Well, yes: with nightfall come cooler climes, which are more conducive to many of the park’s residents leaving their shady enclaves for a moonlit stroll.

Certainly, Al Ain Wildlife Park’s dedication to conservation and education bodes well for the future of indigenous species – not to mention our understanding of them.
Entry is Dhs15 for adults and Dhs5 for children. Call free on 800 2977, or check out the website at www.awpr.ae.

Al Wadi Banyan Tree

The Al Wadi Banyan Tree is part of a holiday concept that began in Thailand and now covers everywhere from the Maldives to China. This version, however, has its identity firmly embedded within the spirit of the surrounding area; villas take the form of large Bedouin tents, dining is performed under the stars and oryx stroll through the 60-hectare reserve without a care in the world.

The indigenous oryx are joined by gazelles, all crisscrossing between local ghaf (read: small) trees and dune bushes. Birds feast on the caterpillars that graze on the vegetation, beetles scurry across the hot sand, and the entire reserve heads down to the man-made watering hole at dusk for a well-deserved drink.

You, of course, don’t need to slug it out with the animals; golf buggies are on hand to whisk you from door to door, and when you get hungry they’ll even bring the barbecue to you, ensuring the most taxing part of the day is moving from the private swimming pool to your table in the sand.

When Time Out visited, the Banyan Tree was operating under a ‘soft launch’, which meant that certain activities, such as the horse ranch were still being dealt the finishing touches, and although the official opening date is March it’s probably worth checking on progress before you book.

Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre

‘We are not a zoo,’ founder Ronel Smuts is quick to point out. ‘Zoos have exhibits and, here, it is mostly about breeding, rehabilitation and education.’ Many of the animals who find their way to the centre have been confiscated, but their stories differ wildly. ‘We’re still trying to find out whether they’re Ethiopian or Arabian,’ Ronel says of a pair of wolves she’s taken in. As to how a Somalian cheetah finds its way to the UAE, the story is a depressingly predictable one. ‘Somalia is a very poor country and the market for exotics is huge,’ claims Ronel.

For Ronel, it all started with the cheetahs; a litter of young cheetah cubs literally landed in her lap, and having previously worked at wildlife centres in South Africa, she turned her villa into a cross between a nursery and the Serengeti before she found the backing of Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (of Man City fame), who built and financed the first wildlife centre on his private grounds.

The centre has since changed location and now boasts a veterinary, which is open to the public, and tours where the public can interact with resident monkeys. There’s also a chance to get close to the wild cats.
Since the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre opens only on appointment, call Ronel on 050 614 4024. Also ask her for directions, since the centre is notoriously difficult to find.

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