In 1986, a young orphaned chimpanzee named Laila was given a new home at Al Ain Zoo and 36 years on, the geriatric ape is still going strong.
While the Soviet Union was coming to terms with the worst nuclear disaster in history at Chernobyl and Diego Maradona was lifting the World Cup in Mexico City for Argentina — baby Laila was getting to know her new surroundings and munching on fruit and leaves.
Chimps typically live for between 15 and 20 years in the wild, largely because of predators and environmental factors such as habitat destruction.
Now a grand old lady of Al Ain Zoo, Laila is one of the attraction’s best-loved residents and has far outlived her expected age in the wild, but she is not the oldest.
A 47-year-old lappet-faced vulture with creaking bones takes that title.
The craggy old bird was brought to the zoo in 1975, a year marked by the end of the Vietnam War, the arrival of VHS tapes and when a barrel of oil cost $12.
The zoo’s two elders are not the only residents to live well beyond their expected lifespan and benefit from scientific research.
Mugger crocodiles would typically live to about 28 in their natural habitats of the freshwater lakes and rivers of southern Asia.
But the mugger croc bathing in the waters of Al Ain zoo recently reached the ripe old age of 34.
How technology is improving the lives of animals
In the time all three animals have lived at the zoo, technology has accelerated at express pace and is now used widely to protect wildlife inside and outside Al Ain.
“We are living in the age of technology, and we must utilise it to the maximum in our work,” said Ghanim Al Hajeri, the zoo’s director general.
“The technologies we adopt have saved a tremendous amount of both effort and time and over the years have provided highly accurate results in monitoring and tracking animals.
“By studying their behavioural patterns and keeping an eye on their health, and keeping up with many other technologies, which in turn have supported our mission in protecting endangered species.”
The zoo has nurtured its rich variety of more than 4,000 animals by using the latest technology.
It has helped the process registration of animals, their monitoring, genetic studies, veterinary care and the behavioural rehabilitation of abused animals brought into the zoo.
It also uses ZIMS zoo aquarium animal management software, considered the global benchmark for data collecting and sharing on animals and their environments, for zoos, aquaria and related organisations to serve and accomplish conservation goals.
Meanwhile, genetic conserving programmes have been developed over the years to maintain the genetic integrity of the zoo’s animals.
They can help ensure the preservation and sustainability of species, with the possibility of releasing some healthy offspring back into the wild to help repopulation.
“Our technology-based strategies extend to all areas of wildlife in our care,” Mr Al Hajeri said.
“From animal facial recognition to DNA analysis, physical and behavioural rehabilitation, and the collection of data to share with specialised global agencies to join forces in our quest for wildlife preservation, down to the most basic animal calming techniques that, with the use of modern technology, become more efficient and safer.
“It all contributes to improving the quality of life of animals and adds to our ability to preserve wildlife.”