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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Portrait of a Nation: Inside an Emirati's private museum of stuffed gazelles, skulls, and precious stones

Tariq Al Salman has been in a few scrapes in his quest to build a natural history museum

Tariq Al Salman at his natural treasures museum in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Tariq Al Salman at his natural treasures museum in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Tariq Al Salman's quest to fill a private museum with everything from stuffed gazelles to precious stones has come with its fair share of scrapes.

The electrical engineer has travelled far and wide, collecting gazelles and birds, pieces of coral reef, and the skulls of rare animals.

“I've met some dangerous people and been to some risky places,” said the 50-year-old owner of RAK Nature Treasures.

He recalled one run-in in Sri Lanka when he went to meet a dealer of sells precious stones.

“I did not know what I was getting in to until I reached this home. I had to enter through door after door down into a basement," he said.

“I found myself in an armoured room full of safe boxes. And the dealer took out a diamond worth $100,000, thinking that I will buy it!”

“I could not leave without buying - and I could not afford it - I had to talk my way out of it.”

The eclectic collection he put together in his travels forms Rak Nature Treasures, a small natural history museum that he opened two months ago.

Natural precious stones, fossils, dried animals and insects, to skulls and bones of various animals together form six sections of a natural history museum.

Salman aims to make the museum an educational hub for nature enthusiasts.

Tariq Al Salman at his natural treasures museum in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Tariq Al Salman at his natural treasures museum in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“It is part of a project I had in mind from a long time ago; to have an educational farm, so people can come and see things that they only see on television," he said.

“So I started with the museum and I will continue to expand the project. I want to show people how farms grow with water, how the animals are fed and how old houses were built."

He has welcomed school pupils and received some television coverage so far.

“Not many people know about it yet, but I was surprised to find that there is a lot of interest for it here in the UAE.”

When he took samples from the museum to a booth at Al Wathba’s heritage festival, “not a single person passed by and did not stop to look around, take pics and ask about the items", he said.

“And people were knowledgeable, they recognised the items.

“Many asked to buy them, but I know if I sell any item I will never be able to find the same. They are all original natural items and each is unique in its nature.”

Mr Salman’s passion for nature started as early as he could remember. Since a young age he would wander around green fields, the desert and the beach.

“Wherever I went I would look for nature and take photos of the interesting things I see.”

His adventures began with photography, and went on to exploring east and west.

“So the things I found started to lure me; if I found a unique shell I would keep it, or if I went to a forest and I found a strange piece of wood I would pick it up, and gradually I started collecting from every place I went to," he said.

“The museums here are all focused on culture and heritage, some have small sections of natural history, but there is no museum dedicated to that.”

He plans to keep building and hopes to attract a steady stream of visitors to his farm near RAK International Airport.

“Nature has so much beauty, the colours, the shapes, and I want people to come and discover it," he smiles.

The biog

From: Ras Al Khaimah

Age: 50

Profession: Electronic engineer, worked with Etisalat for the past 20 years

Hobbies: 'Anything that involves exploration, hunting, fishing, mountaineering, the sea, hiking, scuba diving, and adventure sports'

Favourite quote: 'Life is so simple, enjoy it'