The project includes Asian, African, Arabian villages and an open Safari Village. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai Safari will open its doors to the public only after this summer and will house about 3,500 animals in its first phase, Gulf News has learnt.

The much-awaited Dh1 billion project will be completed by April, Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality told Gulf News. However, he said, the facility will start receiving visitors only after a grand inauguration by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, after the summer.

“We will have a soft launch after the completion [of the first phase] of the project in April,” he added.

Tim Husband, technical director of Dubai Safari, said the facility is likely to start receiving visitors from September.

He said April would see the completion of the first phase of the project which includes Asian, African, Arabian villages and an open Safari Village that offers a guided safari drive.

The number of animals to be housed in Dubai Safari has also been reduced to some 3,500 from the previous figure of 5,000. About 500 of them, including lions, moon bears, monkeys, crocodiles and antelopes have already made Dubai Safari their home, Husband said, after giving Gulf News an exclusive drive through the open safari and showing us some of these animals.

Running behind schedule

Tim Husband

“We are running a little bit behind schedule with some of the buildings and in acquiring some animals,” Husband said, explaining the delay.

He said he has had to cancel orders for birds and animals due to reports of avian flu, foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases in the countries from where the stock was expected to come. “We don’t want to compromise on the health and safety of the animals and the last thing I want is overcrowding,” he said.

New species of animals will be calling Dubai Safari home soon. “We are looking at the importation of rhinos and hippos now. Giraffes will be coming very soon.”

The biggest attraction at the safari is expected to be a group of elephants, the arrival of which will not be made public until they settle down well. “I can only say that there will be 16 of them and it will be the largest number of elephants ever moved legally,” said Husband.

Tickets to be affordable

Khaled Sultan Hilal Al Suwaidi, director of Leisure Facilities Department at Dubai Municipality, said the entry tickets to Dubai Safari will be kept affordable for all. “We are planning to have different types of tickets. One is for visiting the Asian, African and Arabian villages and another for the drive through the Safari Village. There will be a combined ticket for visiting all of them together.”

Al Suwaidi said the animals from the existing Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah will be moved into Dubai Safari before the soft launch. “All of them will come here. We will announce the closure of Dubai Zoo after that.”

The main building will include a theatre for various shows and activities that can accommodate 1,000 people, with an external metal structure, a clean energy production park, and an interactive play area for children, the municipality had earlier said. A wadi area, themed cafes and restaurants, a veterinary hospital and research centre with a state-of-the art lab, are also part of the first phase.