x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Penguins go on show at Ski Dubai

Animal rights group says project is about cash, not conservation

James Gabrillo

DUBAI // They have a staff of 13 "butlers" to cater for their every need, they dine on restaurant-quality fish and they enjoy the lifestyle of respected diplomatic ambassadors.

Best of all, since they live in a Dubai shopping mall, the prospect of a hunting pack of killer whales arriving to turn them into lunch is minimal.

All in all, therefore, life is sweet for the penguin colony that arrived at Ski Dubai at the beginning of the year and will be on show to the public from Sunday.

Before arriving in the UAE, the birds were part of a breeding programme at SeaWorld in Texas.

Ten of them penguins are king penguins, the second largest type, and the others are gentoo penguins, identifiable by a wide white stripe extending across their heads.

Ski Dubai has built a housing area and pool at the resort to resemble 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 vet 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) is critical, and says Ski Dubai "only acquired penguins for profit". Peta's Asia-Pacific senior campaigner, Ashley Fruno, said: "If they really cared about penguins, they would leave them alone."

Mr Scheffer, however, insists the project is more than just a commercial enterprise. "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. As ambassadors of their species, for them we only have utmost respect."

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, visited the penguins on Sunday and named one of them Hadi, Arabic for calm.

jgabrillo@thenational.ae

For more snow penguins, see Oasis, pages al6&7