January 9 – Al Ain, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
(Written by Raakel Toppila, photos and video by Aubree Pack)
(Although Al Ain Wildlife park is currently a zoo, it’s focus on conservation includes plant life)
We began our day in the 4000 year-old oasis settlement of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, home of the late Sheikh Zayad, founder of the UAE. Sheikh Zayad’s reverence for nature and deep concern for the wildlife of the Arabian Peninsula inspired him to develop the Al Ain Zoo in 1968, now called the Al Ain Wildlife Park.
Video Link – A clip of the African Mixed Exhibit (if you turn it up loud, you can hear about the antelope collection from Michael Maunder)
(Felicia and James look in on Lady, a resident Gorilla)
Dr. Mike Maunder, the Chief Collection, Conservation, and Education Officer at Al Ain and Nabil Zakhour, Advisor Public Relations and Media Communication Manager were our gracious guides for the day. Dr. Maunder described the developing government project , which involves the ambitous expansion of the 90 hectares (222 acres) park into a 900 hectares (2224 acres) project. The development involves the creation of geographically themed safaris, world desert gardens, a learning center, hotel, and sustainable housing. True to the legacy of Sheikh Zayad, the project is intended to reconnect citizens of the UAE to plant life and the natural world.
(Mike Maunder shows us the master plan for the new Wildlife park and Resort)
The park is home to some of the most endangered species in the world such as the Arabian Oryx, now extinct in the wild, and the Arabian leopard with only 200 wild species remaining. These animals are being assessed for their potential for Al Ain breeding and reintroduction programs.
The horticulture department is preparing for the large expansion of the gardens by testing the most physiologically adaptive plants in the world. Horticulturalists are trialing species that can tolerate irrigation by sewage effluent and soaring summer temperatures reaching 52 degrees Celsius (126 degrees Fahrenheit). To locate some of these plants, Jamie Hilyard, horticulturist on staff travels around the world in search of plant species to incorporate in the park. One of his latest discoveries involved over 100 Boabab trees, forgotten in their pots by a woman in Bankok who had intended to use them for bonsai. The 20-foot trees were transported from Bangkok to Al Ain, and seem to be adapting to the new conditions beautifully.
(One of the largest Acacia tortilis that was salvaged/saved for the new installations at the Wildlife Park)
We left the animals and went “behind the scenes” with Dr. Maunder. His face lit up as he showed us the largest tree salvage project in the Middle East. Countless native Acacia tortilis trees were successfully transferred into wooden containers to rescue them from destruction during park construction. Our tour ended with a fly-by presentation of the project by Noushadali Kayalmadathil, Program Control Systems Manager. Our group also had the opportunity to meet with members of the education department.
(The group, in front of Pachycereus pringlei)
In a single day we travelled from Al Ain, a 4,000 year-old oasis settlement to the sparkling city of Dubai, a small fishing village just 30 years ago. We explored the world’s tallest building outside the immaculate Dubai Mall before hopping on a red eye flight for Trivandrum in the South of India.