Dubai: Tim Husband, the man who helped Dubai set up its first wildlife Safari Park, is leaving the emirate.
Husband will be flying to Saudi Arabia, where he has been tasked with setting up a larger Safari Park.
After officially bidding goodbye on Thursday to the Dubai Safari and its employees, many of who call him ‘Dad’, Husband shared with Gulf News his Dubai story and what has been happening to the Safari behind the scenes.
The New Zealander settled in Australia spent about five years to help with a new home for wild animals in the emiarte.
As the technical director of Dubai Safari Park, Husband played an instrumental role in setting up the sprawling 119-hectare (1.19 million sqm) animal kingdom of more than 2,500 animals, including those moved from the 50-year-old Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah.
An international expert in zoo keeping and wildlife park management with doctorates in Zoology and Anthropology, Husband also brought in animals of various species from various countries.
A new chapter in Dubai’s wildlife history opened when the Dh1-billion wildlife park in Al Warqa’a 5 opened its doors to the public on December 12, 2017.
With two weeks of free entry, tens of thousands visited the park that features an open Safari drive and African, Arabian and Asian villages with enclosures for animals native to those places.
However, the Park that closed for summer on May 15, 2018 did not reopen as expected on October 1, 2018.
It still hasn’t.
The fact that Dubai Safari did not live up to its expectations in the initial stage is the only regret for Husband.
“We could not deliver the best for His Highness [Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai],” said a remorseful Husband.
“We could not give him the best that he deserved. We shouldn’t have opened before we were completely ready,” he said.
The thousands of visitors, who visited Safari for free in the first two weeks, also caused damages to the gardens, he said.
No respect for the park
“They had no respect for the park. They killed so many plants. The restaurants were not ready. People littered things and trampled the gardens.”
However, Safari employees have been striving to offer an enhanced experience for visitors when it will reopen, said Husband.
“It was not as good as how we wanted it. But we are making it better… the staff, the keepers and guides are fantastic. They are very dedicated staff, especially the zoo keepers. Many have got degrees in zoology or park management.”
When will Dubai Safari reopen?
When we threw this big question, Husband said: “Yes, it will. It will reopen this year for sure… maybe within months...People will be surprised.”
Many things have been happening behind the closed doors of Safari, Husband revealed.
The Adventure Park is almost ready to pump up your put adrenalin and there are more green areas and more shades for the visitors.
He denied rumours of several deaths of animals in the Safari. Instead, he said, the park has welcomed more animal babies during the shut period.
From a hippo, a zebra and a donkey to antelopes, monkeys, reptiles and birds, most of the species, including some endangered ones, have been breeding.
“There are babies everywhere… there are literally hundreds… Animals have been breeding so much that we had to separate some male and female ones.”
He said the dead stock has been far below the global average and there has been more livestock.
Some great animal shows also have been in the making, he said.
“They were only doing the bird show earlier. We now have the bigger show with birds and mammals. They have been getting the animals ready, practicing ever since the Safari closed. There will be a dog show and another show of birds of prey in the grass area as well.”
In shows, Husband claimed, all animals and birds exhibit their natural behaviour.
“These are educational shows. There is no trick or anything unnatural. No jumping through hoops or fire rings. No parrots on bicycles or other circus numbers.”
He said the whole reptile house has been redone and the aviary has also got a facelift.
However, the biggest attraction for visitors when Safari reopens will be the four African elephants, one male and three females, that were flown in from Zimbabwe in April 2018.
Husband said they have adapted well to the Dubai climes.
Suggestions for Safari
Though he will not be present when the Safari opens for the public again, Husband has a few suggestions for a new team that is expected to fill his shoes.
They include starting an animal sponsoring programme to discourage people from owning exotic animals.
“People should, instead, sponsor them in the Safari where they will be taken care of by professionals.”
Building on an animal collection plan set up till 2025, having an animal exchange programmes with other zoos, continuing with the annual award ceremony for best performing employees and sending them for conferences are other best practices that Husband wishes to see implemented in Dubai Safari.
“Animals are disappearing and zoos around the world hold a collection of animals, a living ark. In some designated national parks, zoos have helped to put the animals back into the forest. Dubai Safari will have a good gene pool of several species of animals, the seeds for the future,” he said.