x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mena region unites to protect wildlife

A regional body overseeing zoos and aquariums would protect wildlife and conserve species.

AL AIN // Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are working towards setting up a regional body in charge of all zoos and aquariums.

After holding their first meeting in Al Ain yesterday, representatives from 30 countries – including Morocco, the UAE and Jordan – said they hoped the new organisation would help to protect wildlife and conserve species in danger of extinction.

“We’re discussing what the needs are and how to enhance information, cooperation and exchange,” said Dr Gerald Dick, executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “We’re looking at improving animal keeping, conservation and breeding.

“The new body will allow countries to learn from each other, ensure joint training for keepers, improve the welfare situation in the zoos and think about enrichment activities for the animals.”

He spoke on the sidelines of the first Arabian zoo and aquarium meeting, hosted by Al Ain Zoo.

The move toward a regional body is necessary because many zoos and aquariums are often neglected or poorly maintained.

“What’s important is for the zoos to make sure people know what the animals are there for,” said Sally Walker, the director of the South Asian Zoo Association for Regional Cooperation. “It’s not just to entertain visitors, but to educate them to do positive things for the environment and make it possible for some species to survive. Many more species than we think are going extinct.”

Ms Walker said some zoos did not have enough space to keep animals that need to breed. Others lack education officers to make the public more knowledgeable about wildlife.

“Animals should also be kept in a semi-natural habitat, like in Al Ain Zoo, not a cage,” she added.

Setting up a regional body could help address those issues, and experts believe the Middle East has the potential to thrive.

“The biggest asset in this region is that you only have one language,” Dr Dick said. “In Europe, it’s very difficult to do something together all the time.”

Ghanim Al Hajeri, Al Ain Zoo’s director general, believes uniting everyone under one umbrella will help preserve the region’s wildlife. He hopes it will be achieved before the next conference in Al Ain in 2015.

“This was something Sheikh Zayed started in 1968 to conserve some of our unique Arabian Oryx from the wild,” Mr Al Hajeri said. “We started with only four species but today we have a significant footprint for that project.”

cmalek@thenational.ae