x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The call of the wild

A profile of Muna Al Dhaheri, the chief officer for conservation and education at Al Ain Zoo.

Muna Al Dhaheri, who is the chief officer for conservation and education at Al Ain Zoo. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Muna Al Dhaheri, who is the chief officer for conservation and education at Al Ain Zoo. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

It took time for Muna Al Dhaheri to find her vocation. She spent almost nine years working in the utilities industry – in contracts, purchasing and even debt collection – before she finally found herself, and the right role, working at Al Ain Zoo.

“When I first visited the zoo, I felt like there were lots of things that I might do and then, by coincidence, I saw an advertisement for a marketing position, so I applied.”

That was 11 years ago. In her first position, as a marketing and education officer, she made presentations to school groups, developed public exhibitions and acted as the zoo’s PR. Three years later, she became the manager of the zoo’s education centre, and last year she was appointed the acting director of life science and then the chief officer for conservation and education. It’s been a meteoric rise.

The mother of two now leads a team almost 200 strong that includes conservationists, experts in animal management, and veterinary scientists. She is responsible for overseeing the zoo’s strategy for education and conservation, and for developing operational procedures and conservation programmes.

“We are responsible for identifying which local species we will conserve in order to save them from extinction, species which used to live in the wild on the Arabian Peninsula but which are now almost extinct or endangered, such as the Arabian oryx, the Arabian leopard and the Arabian tahr,” she says.

When it comes to the UAE’s environmental future, Al Dhaheri believes that lessons can be learnt from previous generations.

“Our grandparents lived in the desert but they only took what they needed. They didn’t destroy it. The next generation should take what they need but conserve the desert for future generations. They should live in harmony with nature.”

Your favourite way to relax?

If I have time, I like to paint and draw portraits, but I am so busy now that whenever I do have spare time, I sleep!

What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy connecting with others, in my team at work and members of the public. I love talking to them about animals like the Arabian leopard, falcons and desert eagle owls, so I always try to find time to go down to the education department so that I can help in a class with the students.

Your biggest inspiration?

Sheikh Zayed. He used to give parents money to encourage them to send their daughters to school … If my parents hadn’t been given that encouragement, I don’t think they would have sent me.

µWhat is your favourite destination?

I love Fujairah. The water is so clear there. I go there with my husband and children, and I love to walk along the beach in the early morning.

What do you always carry with you?

I always carry pictures of my children because I travel a lot with my job.

Where would you live if you had the choice?

Al Ain. I was born here, grew up here, and now I live and work here. My roots, grandparents and all my family come from this city. I am like a fish in the sea here. I could not live anywhere else.

What is your favourite animal?

That would be the Arabian sand cat. It’s the smallest member of the cat family in the Arabian Peninsula. All of the cats at the zoo really catch the attention of the children, but we use the sand cat as a hook to get them interested in desert species and conservation. We have an Arabian sand cat-breeding programme – the first sand cat was born through in-vitro fertilisation in 2010 – and we have the largest collection of Arabian sand cats in captivity.


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