This week, the sprawling Sharjah Safari joined the UAE's growing list of attractions where visitors can get up close and personal with wildlife, including some rare and endangered species.
The 800-hectare park in Al Dhaid, about 49 kilometres from the Sharjah city, has been seven years in the making.
“This safari is authentic. When you drive around early morning or late in the afternoon, you forget you are in the UAE — it feels as if you are in Africa," Kevin Budd, the operations manager for animals at Sharjah Safari told The National, on its opening day.
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The UAE's latest wildlife attraction was designed to replicate a real African safari. Across 12 environments, each representing a region in Africa, visitors will be able to experience the life and terrain of the animals and birds that live in them.
Currently, about 600 animals including lions, giraffes and rhinos call the Sharjah Safari home, with about 300 more expected to arrive later this month and in March. One of the star attractions is Wuhaida, the first female southern white rhino born in Sharjah Safari in August last year. Wuhaida's birth is the result of the safari's breeding programme, supported by the UN, that focuses on African native species.
Visitors will also be able to meet Bridi, the first African female giraffe born in Sharjah Safari. Both Wuhaida and Bridi's parents arrived at the Sharjah Safari in May 2017.
Conservation is also an important aspect of Sharjah Safari's operations. Through the emirate's Environment and Protected Areas Authority, which help develop the park, the attraction will become a centre for international captive breeding programmes for key species, and will partner with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.
Open daily, 8.30am-6.30pm; tickets are from Dh15 for children and Dh40 for adults for a guided Bronze walking tour and go all the way up to Dh3,500 for a group of 12 people in a luxury car in the Gold category; 06 803 7666
Dubai Safari Park
Home to more than 3,000 animals, the 119-hectare attraction in Al Warqa first opened its doors in 2017, but closed six months later to “enhance the visitor experience”. If finally reopened in 2020 under a new management with a focus on conservation, education and sustainability.
Spread across five different zones — Africa, Asia, Arabian Desert Safari, Explorer and Adventure Village — Dubai Safari Park is made up of vast green spaces surrounded by waterfalls and artificial rock faces, and plenty of spaces for its main inhabitants. A drive-through safari, with a bus carrying guests through a series of gated enclosures, is also available.
Open daily, 9am-5pm; tickets are priced at Dh50 for adults and Dh20 for children; 800 900, www.dubaisafari.ae
The National Aquarium, Abu Dhabi
Located in Al Qana, a new waterfront destination in the capital, The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi is the largest aquarium in the Middle East, spanning more than 9,000 square metres, and home to 46,000 creatures and 300 species.
Opened in November last year, the attraction is divided into 10 zones: the UAE’s Natural Treasures, Red Sea Wreck, Atlantic Cave, The Sub, Ring of Fire, Ocean Magic, Frozen Ocean, Flooded Forest, Bu Tinah Island and Back of House.
One of the most popular zones is the Flooded Forest where visitors can find the super snake, a female reticulated python aged 14 that weighs 115 kilograms. The area also has more than 8,000 rainforest creatures, including free-roaming birds that fly around and yet don't go near guests.
Rehabilitation and conservation is also a priority. In July 2020, the aquarium signed a five-year partnership with The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, “with the aim to help create the largest and most innovative rehabilitation schemes of its kind to protect and rehabilitate wildlife in the emirate of Abu Dhabi".
"The partnership has resulted in a large number of animals saved, including 200 turtles being successfully rescued and released until today," said Paul Hamilton, general manager of The National Aquarium.
Open daily, 10am-10pm; 02 418 6666, www.thenationalaquarium.ae
Emirates Park Zoo & Resort
This private zoo on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi opened in 2008 and is home to more than 1,400 animals including mammals, reptiles, fish and birds. The zoo not only lets visitors interact with many of its inhabitants, but also offers luxury chalet-style overnight stays.
Tours on offer include giraffe feeding, monkey feeding and hippo feeding, while Keeper's Talk, meant as an educational experience, gives guests the lowdown on about the zoo's wildlife.
Open daily, 9am-8pm; tickets start at Dh40; 02 501 0000, www.emiratesparkzooandresort.com
Al Ain Zoo
More than 4,000 animals and creatures live on this 900-hectare parkland in the foothills of Jebel Hafeet. Founded in 1968 by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, the zoo is home to oryx, giraffe, Barbary sheep, rhinos, hippos, tigers, lions and more. Kids will enjoy the petting zoo and there’s also a well-respected conservation and breeding programme.
Visitors can choose from various activities including The Cheetah Journey, The Rhino Journey and The Tortoise Journey.
An attraction called Al Ain Safari, which currently covers a 54-hectare section of the zoo, offers one of the world’s largest man-made safaris where you can encounter the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) from the safety of an SUV or safari truck. Emirati safari guides will take the lead, giving you more information about the animals and the surrounding landscape as you drive.
Open daily, 9am-6pm; tickets start at Dh9.45 for children and Dh28.35 for adults; 800 966, www.alainzoo.ae