Dubai: The UAE’s much-awaited wildlife park Dubai Safari will be officially open to the public in January, a top official announced during the soft launch of the Dh1-billion facility on Tuesday.
For two weeks until then, visitors will be given free entry, Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, told Gulf News.
He said the date for the official opening will be announced by the end of December. “We have opened on a trial basis now. We hope to open officially after two weeks,” Lootah said.
Later, he added, the visitors will be given free entry for two weeks.
“Our vision for this project, which is more than just a wildlife park, is to offer a highly engaging edutainment experience that fosters education on animal welfare, inspires a sense of learning about wildlife diversity and raises awareness on what makes wildlife protection a top priority,” Lootah said.
Hundreds of residents and tourists along with members of the media got a sneak peek of the new animal world — rich with greenery and waterbodies in the desert city — after the soft launch.
Residents and tourists, who turned up assuming the park was officially open from Tuesday, entered for free to have a close encounter with various species of animals roaming in open enclosures.
White lions from Timbavati in South Africa, orange and white Siberian tigers, giraffes, chimpanzees, hippos, peacocks, ostriches, antelopes, crocodiles and even hyenas stole the hearts of visitors, especially children.
Visitors were treated to a world’s first experience of driving through a waterbody in which crocodiles are exhibited. Driving through hippo and tiger exhibits was another first experience in the UAE while a water enclosure also offered an underwater viewing of a pygmy hippo, also for the first time in the country.
Dubai Safari is also home to the UAE’s largest walk-through aviary and largest troop of baboons, the glimpses of which enthralled the visitors.
However, there was sad news from the enclosure of the white lions. The keepers of the lions confirmed to Gulf News that one of the first set of white cubs born to parents ‘Beauty’ and ‘Big Boy’ died soon after hitting headlines for being named by kids in a social media contest.
“We only have the male cub now, whom we are used to calling Banda though he was named Leo in the contest,” one of the keepers told Gulf News.
The female cub named Snowy was not given any other name by the keepers and died just after the contest, the keepers said.
Also, the visitors were disappointed that the biggest attraction expected to be at the safari — a group of elephants — had not yet arrived.
Tim Husband, technical director of Dubai Safari, said elephants and other animals would soon join. He said with more than 2,500 animals representing 250 exciting species, Dubai Safari is home to the most diverse array of animal species in the UAE.
The first phase of the Dh1-billion project sprawling over 119 hectares in Al Warqa’a 5 includes Asian, African and Arabian villages and an open Safari Village that offers a guided safari drive.
Paw prints of big cats form the symbol of the project that is home to the nation’s first open safari, where visitors will travel around in environmentally friendly electric vehicles to see animals roaming around in the wild.
Ticketing officials said the Asian, African and Arabian villages housing zoo enclosures of animals will be open from 9am to 9pm from Wednesday.
However, the Safari Village where visitors can go for an open Safari drive will be open from 9am to 6pm, with tickets being issued only till 4pm.
The park replaced the 50-year-old Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah which housed around 1,000 animals, birds and reptiles. They were shifted to Dubai Safari last month.
Utmost care is being given to the animals, right from their selection itself. Tests are done to ensure their fitness and experienced trainers and keepers from different parts of the world have been hired to take care of them.
A veterinary hospital, which will be extended with a research centre having a state-of-the art lab, is part of the project to offer treatment and care for the animals.
Air-conditioned artificial rocks, misting fans and chilled water will be used to keep them cool during summer. Pools, muddy ponds and other waterbodies will also provide natural habitat for animals.
Officials said Dubai Safari will host a breeding programme at the conservation centre that aims to release animals into the wild each year.
Dh1b: Project cost
119 hectares: Area
4 villages housing animals, birds and reptiles
2,500 animals of 250 species