x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Elephant in the room at wildlife park

In a first for the Emirates, officials at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, are looking at buying an elephant.

The Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort is looking into buying an elephant after requests from visitors.
The Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort is looking into buying an elephant after requests from visitors.

Call it Operation Dumbo Drop. Officials at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, a combined zoo, botanical gardens and museum, are looking at buying an elephant. It would be a first for the Emirates and a complicated logistical challenge. "Our visitor surveys tell us that our guests want to see elephants," said Michael Maunder, the chief collection, conservation and education officer of the park. "However, our facilities and master plan do not include plans for elephants ? but we are getting a lot of interest."

The possible addition of an elephant would be part of the large-scale procurement drive at the park, where visitors will be able to see re-creations of the world's deserts on safari four-wheel-drives. Each of six deserts, including the Sonoran landscape of the south-west US and the arid environment of East Africa, will be complete with animals and plants from the native regions. The estimated US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) project will also include a resort, housing and museums. The first phase is planned to open in November next year.

The largest part of the project's procurement drive is plants. Trees, shrubs and succulents from up to 15 countries are being bought. Jamie Hilyard, the landscape manager, is known as the "plant hunter" by his colleagues because he travels around the world buying vegetation. They are growing aloe dichotoma in Kenya and shipping over trees such as the adansonia digitata, better known as the baobab, from markets in Thailand, Spain and Arizona.

Part of Mr Hilyard's job is to investigate the plants' places of origin to ensure they were not improperly taken from nature. But transporting large animals presents some of the starkest challenges to zoos around the world. Giraffes are usually moved over long distances only when they are young. At their peak height of about 5.5 metres, they do not safely fit in an aeroplane or a ship. Elephants can be transported in wide-body cargo planes, such as the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.

bhope@thenational.ae