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Dubai Safari Park’s technical director says it animals will have the best facilities when the attraction opens its doors to the public.
Following pressure from wildlife groups in Africa about the importation of animals, Timothy Husband insisted baby elephants and other animals in Dubai will not be used for rides.
Reports that a Swedish-owned game farm in Namibia allowed the capture and export of five baby elephants for Dubai were denied.
Mr Husband said the new attraction will be a market leader when it opens later this year, or early 2018.
The wild animal specialist and zoo keeper was bought in by Dubai Municipality three years ago to oversee the new park, and use his 40 years of knowledge to help create a safe, animal-friendly environment.
Desert elephants from Namibia were chosen as they are regarded as adaptable to the harsh UAE climate.
He said there was never a plan to import wild elephants, but he was hoping to import older elephants who had been rescued in Namibia.
“The elephants I chose were going to be culled,” Mr Husband said. “They were teenagers. We were never going to take babies, as they must be schooled by adults.
“If you have babies without adults, they will become delinquent and unmanageable. The elephants I was looking at in Namibia were around 10 years old.
“We changed our path from the company that was supplying them, as we were not comfortable using them.”
Trading wild elephants for commercial purposes is illegal in terms of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on Fauna and Flora criteria.
A group of 30 specialist dealers was reduced to three, as part of a tightly controlled tender process.
The process is one Mr Husband is familiar with, having looked at more than 200 giraffes before selecting 19 for the park.
Every animal is micro chipped with a matching serial number for a stock book, so checks can be made to ensure all animals are transported legally. It is a stringent process.
Animals are selected for their best genetics, to give the park a good foundation stock so it can trade with other zoos.
The four female elephants chosen for Dubai required health checks and export permits supplied by the dealer, and import permits on the other side.
The convention requires extensive paperwork to be completed before any animal is moved. The story was leaked in Namibia to animal rights groups who published false claims about exporting baby elephants from the wild.
“Reputation is everything,” said Mr Husband, who is from New Zealand. If I ever have a bad animal transaction or feel something is suspicious, I leave it – it is not worth it.
“It is such a small industry we all know each other. They used a photo of four random baby elephants, I knew they were not mine,” he said. “They said we were planning elephant rides, but one of the reasons I’m here is to stop that kind of thing. There is no way we would allow that here.”
Elephants rescued from logging operations or poachers will be given a new life in the park, where they will have the freedom to walk around and the use of three swimming pools and mud wallows.
The park is also planning an elephant conservation programme and will take part in coordinated breeding programmes here in the UAE, and overseas.
Its aim is to create a stable elephant population in the UAE to help preserve the species.
The Exhibited Animals Protection Act states an animal should have a minimum area to move around in by law. Dubai Safari Park aims to triple that area for its animals.
It will have space for 5,000 animals, but is likely to have half that amount when it opens.
Rather than heated rocks and warmer areas like there are in zoos in cooler climates, everything will be cooled, including refrigerated pools for hippos and elephants.
Water is being pumped through two types of filtration and a cooling system. It is a unique operation, with lions and primates also benefiting from air conditioning in their dens. Misting fans will keep birds cool.
“We want the animals to go into their enclosure every night so the keepers can look at them and treat them if necessary,” Mr Husband said.