x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Travelling with Kids: a day in Abu Dhabi's animal wonderland

Abu Dhabi's Family and Kids Park Zoo is one the city's best-kept secrets.

The Family and Kids Park Zoo is one of Abu Dhabi's best-kept secrets. Not many people know it exists, and neither did we, until last week when Calvin came home from school with tales of an animal-filled wonderland not far from the city, where there were puppies to play with and baby monkeys to cuddle.

So on a blustery Saturday afternoon we set out for the zoo, located in a quiet corner of Shahama and easy enough to find because the route is properly signposted.

We got there within 20 minutes of leaving the city. It took only half a minute to buy tickets (the weather had kept the crowds away) and entered a shaded yard lined with pens full of incredibly healthy-looking llama, deer, camels, sheep and goats. We bought a bunch of fresh leaves (Dh5) from a man standing behind a small table piled high with the stuff, and soon Calvin was engaged in a tug-of-war with the animals, who went for the leaves as though they hadn't eaten in weeks.

After we'd petted every beast in sight, we moved on to see the birds - owls, parrots, budgies, macaws and a glorious peacock. Fat white doves, disturbed by our sudden appearance, flapped around over our heads, cooing indignantly. But Calvin had eyes only for the peacock, so we left him sitting cross-legged in front of it and headed to the back of the zoo, where the carnivorous animals are kept. We went past hyenas, laughing in their horrible, manic way, lions dozing in the sun, and a couple of Bengal tigers, one of whom obliged us with a run round the enclosure and a quick dip in the pool.

On the other side of the park was a herd of zebras, galloping as though they were in the African savannah and completely unmindful of the keeper who'd walked in to fill their water troughs. The zebras share their huge space with giraffes, and an elevated walkway brought us to eye-level with the gawky, beautiful creatures, their heads gently nudging our fingers for food.

Later, beside a fenced area full of aggressive-looking ostriches and a pen of perky meerkats, we found Calvin sitting on a bench, raptly stroking a diaper-clad baby orang-utan that was fast asleep in the arms of a zoo attendant. This went on for 40 minutes, at the end of which we literally had to frog-march our son towards the exit, only to be stopped by another attendant with an adorable puppy on a leash. Would we like to take it for a stroll, he asked?

We did and, of course, the walk ended right back at the baby orang-utan. Ever since then, Calvin's been trying to persuade us to get him a monkey. If not, he says, a peacock will do.

Entrance is Dh20 for adults and Dh10 for children. Visit www.uaeparkzoo.com for more details.