RAS AL KHAIMAH // Officials at RAK Wildlife Park are expanding the attraction in the lead-up to a law making it illegal to keep exotic animals as pets.
The owners of the park also hope to make it a better environment for its rescue animals but raising the Dh5 million for the two-year renovation work is problematic.
Ninety per cent of the centre’s animals – from big cats to primates – are rescued, whether from people’s homes and mistreatment or from the likes of visiting circuses.
Zara Hovelsas, wild animal welfare director for the Middle East Animal Foundation, is assisting with the renovations.
Much needs to be updated, even though the one million square foot centre, first named RAK Zoo, only opened near RAK Airport in 2014. She has had the name changed, from one suggesting cruelty and captivity, to one more reflective of the sanctuary it has provided its diverse array of animals.
“We are expecting a lot of animal dumping as the law comes into place to keep wild animals,” said Ms Hovelsas, though it may be 2018 before the law is fully enacted.
“People are realising now that keeping a lion or tiger in an apartment or even a villa is impossible. Even by eight or nine months, a tiger or lion becomes unruly and it’s impossible to keep them,” she said. “Many are simply discarded when they get too big.”
She also wants to see better labelling of enclosures, as many visitors are confused as to why the animals look in bad shape, unaware of their journey before reaching the sanctuary.
The park is run by Emirati animal lover Jasem Ali, a retired police general, whose “love for nature and for animals” led him to launch the shelter, rescuing some of the many wild animals brought in illegally, raised in farms, homes, kept in pet shops and abandoned.
Ms Hovelsas said: “The two tigers we rescued from the circus visiting the UAE came to us in a very bad condition and we need people to understand the background and that we’ve taken them in as a sanctuary, and that they’re not being mistreated with us.”
Mr Ali added: “We rescue them to ensure they can continue their lives in an environment that is safe for them.”
The aim is to rehabilitate as many of the animals, which range from snakes to wild dogs, ostriches and crocodiles, as possible, returning them to their natural habitat, but for many, this is impossible. Those reared in captivity are often unable to return to the wild.
“We would really like places like the Dubai Safari Park [which opens later this year] to take some of them,” Ms Hovelsas said.
About 60 per cent of the footfall at the park is tourists and Mr Ali hopes this will grow, even though they have as many as 2,000 visitors a week during the cooler months.
“We’d really like the support of the tourism authority,” he said. “It’s really important to us that people understand what we’re doing here. It’s important for the region to raise this awareness about animals and protecting them.”
Mohamed Loojab, assistant director of tourism standards at the RAK Tourism Development Authority, said it will be some time before the centre will be licensed. “Following a site visit conducted in late 2015, the authority communicated its feedback to the owner of this private venture,” he said.
“This feedback outlined our assessment that the facility did not meet the basic international standards of a zoo or park and, therefore, does not currently meet our official visitor attraction standards.”
However, Mr Loojab added: “We can share detailed guidelines on how to meet the standards the authority requires.”
Funding the project is proving a challenge, as, for now, it is only being funded by Mr Ali, with some support from Sheikha Fatima bint Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The renovation project will take two years and Mr Ali said the biggest priority is air conditioning and “ensuring the animals evolve in the right climate”.
Source: uae news