DUBAI // The head of a Dh1 billion safari park has promised that none of its animals will be used to perform circus-style tricks or carry visitors “while I have any say”.
Timothy Husband, technical director of Dubai Safari, which is being built in Al Warqa, said that while the attraction will feature ethical educational shows with birds or small mammals, larger creatures such as elephants will be allowed to roam.
“They will not be doing tricks or juggling, they will be behaving naturally,” he said, adding that all of the park’s animals will be donated from other zoos or rescued and in need of being
“The animals are [ones] that cannot be returned to the wild for one reason or another.”
Mr Husband said Dubai Safari was looking to acquire ex-working elephants, either from logging camps or tourist parks. He said that their days of being put to work will be behind them.
“[Riding an elephant] will not happen while I have any say in the safari. The whole idea is to save these animals from any more hardship and allow them to live out their lives in a safe environment where they no longer need to be treated as beasts of burden.”
Mr Husband’s assurances have been welcomed by animal welfare groups, who had expressed concerns that the animals at the attraction would be used to perform for tourists.
“The tide of public opinion has turned against animals being used in this way and there are good reasons why,” said Debbie Lawson, a volunteer who works with animal welfare groups across the UAE.
Mr Husband, who has worked in Asia, he has seen first-hand how animals are mistreated and often overworked.
“Seeing this brought it home to me how cruel and degrading this is. The fact is riding elephants can cause serious long-term harm to their spines as they are not made to support the weight.”
Although it has not been confirmed when Dubai Safari will officially open, Mr Husband said he hoped it would be ready for visitors by the end of this year or early in 2017.
“Before even a soft opening is done, we first must be sure that all exhibits and guest areas are safe and up to a standard,” he said.
Ms Lawson said investigations have found that cruelty was inherent in the regimes animals were put through in preparation for shows, with training consisting of physical abuse, threats and negative reinforcement.
“The animal is simply motivated by fear of punishment, their spirit broken,” she said.
A recent report by the World Animal Protection organisation, elephant rides and tiger “selfies” were among the 10 cruellest attractions.
Indian cricketer Ravindra Jadeja was recently fined 20,000 rupees by an Indian court after posting for photos in front of endangered Asiatic lions in a national park.
Dr ElSayed Mohammed, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Middle East, said animals should never be used for entertainment.
“We oppose taking an animal from the wild and putting it in a cage. The whole point is conservation, treating and rehabilitating animals to put them back in their natural habitat.
“However, in cases where they cannot be rehabilitated and survive on their own in the wild, then they must be provided with their natural habitat and used for education purposes only.”