As Dubai grows into the metropolis we know it as, so does the need for environmental awareness and conservation. While many conservationists continue to insist animals solely belong in the wild, what they often fail to address is the fact that the boundaries of their natural habitats are shrinking by the day. Regrettably, animals are increasingly coming under the threats of poaching, global warming, and conflict. In this context, Dubai Safari Park, which imported older elephants and other animals last year, is playing a critical role in the conservation of endangered species. It is also sensitising tourists and residents about protection and conservation.
Timothy Husband, the park’s technical director, gave his assurance to a local newspaper that the desert elephants, brought in from Namibia, were to enhance breeding and care facilities, and for rides. “Some of them are critically endangered. We aim to increase the numbers, to either send them over to other zoos to help with new genetics, or a release programme,” he said. Conservation efforts in the Emirates also include the preservation of the desert’s ecosystem. The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) — which is run by a private organisation that works alongside the Dubai government — has been established to protect the critical desert habitat and a variety of endangered species. The DDCR is also the first conservation area, officially protected in the UAE, with a
constitution and environmental law to ensure its status as a nature reserve.
Spread over 225 square km, (approximately 5% of Dubai’s total land area), the DDCR also includes a leading conservation-based luxury resort. To add to that, the Emirates have sponsored a dedicated conservation team of ecologists and wildlife specialists to protect endangered large mammal species such as the Arabian oryx, which is native to the Arabian Peninsula. For those heading near the sea, interactive/tourist-friendly programmes such as the Marine Turtle Conservation Project are to watch out for. Launched by Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the project highlighted the conservation needs of turtles in the Gulf, and worked towards them during 2010-14.
One of the biggest initiatives to understand marine turtle behaviour and conservation needs resulted in the rehabilitation of turtles along the Dubai coast. Moreover, the hotels along the Jumeirah beach, such as Al Naseem, provide an outdoor turtle lagoon for rehabilitating critically-endangered turtles. As a result, guests living on the property can participate in turtle feeding sessions under the supervision of instructors. Another tourist-friendly conservation initiative at the indoor ski resort — Ski Dubai — educates visitors about penguins from the Antarctic, and lets guests meet them during special ‘Penguin Encounters’ in a private enclosure under the supervision of trainers and instructors. Housed within the Mall of Emirates, King and Gentoo Penguins reside in a sophisticated habitat that recreates their natural one.
As per one of the on-site penguin-trainers at Ski Dubai, the smaller of the two breeds, Gentoo, is more active than its bigger counterpart. “The King Penguins aren’t as fast. They’re heavy birds and would rather lie around or play than go looking for trouble,” reveals the instructor. The enclosure consists of several areas, including a private pool, a top deck area with rocks, and a private holding area for the birds. This initiative is relevant now, more than ever, after a penguin breeding season last year in the Antarctic which classified Gentoo Penguins as ‘near threatened’. Since it was established half a decade ago, the Snow Penguin programme has a colony of 29 penguins, nearly tripling in size, as per the official website.