Elephants will sound their trumpets in Al Ain for the first time in 50 years as the gentle giants return to the UAE’s oldest remaining zoo.
An elephant safari, gorilla sanctuary and rescue centre to care for illegally bought exotic animals are among a series of “mega projects” planned for Al Ain Zoo.
The new attractions – which also include a koala exhibit and an Arabian sand cat breeding centre - were announced by the zoo’s chief operating officer, Mark Craig, on Thursday.
He said the rescue centre was being built to help local authorities in their battle against unscrupulous traders who sell exotic and dangerous animals in the UAE.
Illegal animals seized from homes or surrendered will be taken to the centre for care.
“Unfortunately animals are still being smuggled into this region illegally,” said Mr Craig.
“This rescue centre will offer care for many types of animals from small cats to those as big as rhinos.
“They will be looked after until the team can find a suitable home for them be it in another zoo, back into the wild or even staying here.”
While the rescue centre will remain behind the scenes, the other projects will open to the public.
The elephant safari and exhibit will see the largest land mammals return to the zoo for the first time since the 1970s.
Visitors will be able to interact with two African elephants up close or view them from a watchtower. The 23.77 hectare project will connect to the lion exhibit, part of the zoo’s existing safari.
The Arabian sand cat breeding centre will expand on the zoo’s current breeding programme with a dedicated building to help conserve the previously threatened species.
The zoo is believed to be home to the largest number of sand cats in one place anywhere in the world, with 30 animals.
“We have had sand cats here for many, many years and were beginning to run out of space,” said Mr Craig.
“This centre will help improve breeding results and we will work closely with other zoos on exchange programmes.”
The new gorilla sanctuary will span 8,725 square metres and be home to four primates.
“We will be getting four male gorillas here and visitors will be able to watch them in their natural habitat,” said Mr Craig.
“They are four brothers with a silverback ape as the dominant one.
“Down the track we could introduce females and work on breeding programmes along with other zoos.”
The zoo will also be bringing in six koalas for a “koala land” exhibition, which management said would be the region’s first.
A chimpanzee forest with a sanctuary and walkways and a reptile park will be built and a variety of animals will be added to existing exhibits – including a giant tortoise, Nile crocodile, komodo dragon and snakes.
Penguins were also among the star attractions of the new projects, with a special beach set to home 12 different Humboldt birds.
“Al Ain Zoo is participating in every possible way to conserve and protect wildlife animals,” said Ghaneim Al Hajeri, director general of Al Ain.
The zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals with 30 per cent of the species considered endangered.
No date was given for when these projects would open to the public but an official told The National further announcements would be made throughout the year.