x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Penguins find new home at Ski Dubai

A penguin colony has arrived in the Middle East. A plot for an upcoming Pixar film this is not; rather, the indoor resort Ski Dubai has brought in 20 penguins for guests to interact with beginning on Sunday.

A staff of 13, including a penguin curator in charge of the well-being of the birds, was brought in from different parts of the world. Sarah Dea / The National
A staff of 13, including a penguin curator in charge of the well-being of the birds, was brought in from different parts of the world. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // A penguin colony has arrived in the Middle East. A plot for an upcoming Pixar film this is not; rather, the indoor resort Ski Dubai has brought in 20 penguins for guests to interact with from next Sunday.

Before arriving in the UAE early January, the penguins were part of a multi-generation breeding programme at SeaWorld in Texas, USA. Ten of the penguins are of the king species, the second largest type, while the other half are gentoo penguins, identifiable through a wide white stripe extending across their heads.

Ski Dubai has specifically built a housing area and pool at the resort to mimic an Antarctic environment. A staff of 13, including a penguin curator in charge of the well-being of the birds, was brought in from different parts of the world.

“The penguins live like they have butlers,” said Tom Scheffer, Ski Dubai’s operations manager. “A veterinarian comes every two weeks. They have their own lunch boxes, with restaurant-quality capelin fish imported from Canada.”

The animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) quickly flagged the endeavour. “Ski Dubai is only acquiring penguins for profit,” PETA Asia-Pacific senior campaigner Ashley Fruno told The National. “If they really cared about penguins, they would leave them alone.”

Scheffer argued the project is not an entirely commercial enterprise. “Through this project we’re raising awareness about the conservation needed to sustain their natural habitat,” he said. “We ask the birds what they want to do, we never force them,” added Scheffer. “As ambassadors of their species, for them we only have utmost respect.”

On Sunday, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the country’s Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, dropped by the resort to view the penguins. He even named one of them “Hadi”, Arabic for calm.
The 22,500-square-metre Ski Dubai was developed by Majid Al Futtaim Properties in November 2005.

jgabrillo@thenational.ae