Animal welfare and conservation experts in Al Ain for global conference
AL AIN // Conservation and animal welfare experts from across the world gathered in Al Ain for the 70th World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conference.
It is the first time a Waza conference has been held in the UAE but it was fitting because Sheikh Zayed, the nation’s Founding Father, “was a conservationist before it became fashionable”, keynote speaker Peter Hellyer, director of research at the National Media Council, and columnist for The National said.
“Fifty years ago, recognising that uncontrolled hunting was pushing the Arabian oryx towards extinction, he arranged for the capture of two pairs from the desert and began a captive breeding programme,” Mr Hellyer said.
“A few years later, he set aside an area of land close to Al Ain as the country’s first zoo. It was then, and still is today, the largest zoo in the Middle East in terms of its area.
“In the years that have passed, the concept of conservation has become a central part of Government planning.”
Meeting at the new Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre at Al Ain Zoo and at the Danat Al Ain resort, delegates faced a busy schedule.
Following a council meeting on Sunday, the conference was officially opened on Monday morning by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, and the delegates were welcomed by Al Ain Zoo director general Ghanim Al Hajeri and Waza president Lee Ehmke, from Houston Zoo in Texas.
Tuesday’s proceedings had a special focus on the UAE, with addresses by Mr Hellyer and Leila Abdulatif, deputy director general of the Emirates Wildlife Society, and a discussion about the future of Al Ain Zoo.
Mr Hellyer said that conservation had always been a priority for the Government, “to put into practice both through the national environmental bodies, both governmental and NGOs, and through such institutions as Al Ain Zoo”.
“Hundreds of Arabian oryx are once again roaming free in our deserts, protected from all forms of hunting,” Mr Hellyer said. “Hundreds of houbara bustards, bred successfully in captivity, are released into the wild each year. There is much more to do – but a good start has been made.”
Delegates took part in two workshops on Wednesday. The first, titled Animal Welfare and Crisis Communication, was presented by Jill Allread, from Public Communications in the USA.
The second, presented by Tom Schmid from Texas State Aquarium, and Suzanne Gendron from Ocean Park, Hong Kong, dealt with the future of aquariums.
The conference ends on Thursday.
Updated: October 15, 2015 04:00 AM