x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rescued bushbabies step into public eye

The primates, found on sale illegally in an Al Ain pet shop, are now free to roam in a zoo enclosure similar to their natural habitat.

The rescued bushbabies at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort.
The rescued bushbabies at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort.

AL AIN // When five rescued bushbabies moved into their new home at the city's wildlife park, the mammals - and the staff - encountered an unfamiliar obstacle: windows. "They would jump from the trees and slam into the glass," said Akbar Shalee, 33, the keeper of the Nocturnal House, where the animals now live. They have been nursed back to health since being found on sale illegally in May at a local pet shop.

An agent on behalf of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, seized the endangered primates, which were being held in two small bird cages and were injured and emaciated. They were on sale for Dh1,500 (US$400) each. The animals were handed over to Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, where Farshid Mehrdadfar, the animal collections manager, who said the primates had been through a "terrible ordeal".

"Primates suffer in much the same way that humans do, more than other species," said Mr Mehrdadfar, "due to their level of intelligence. "They are very much in tune with their environment and when they are living in substandard conditions they become very disturbed and begin to exhibit unusual behaviour. "We had to get them acclimated to a new environment, which was very challenging. We also had to get them to get acclimated to humans and slowly bring them around to not reacting negatively to people."

Due to their prolonged stay at the pet shop, Mr Mehrdadfar was concerned that if the animals were put on display, they would be terrified by visitors to the wildlife park looking at them. "We had to slowly enrich their environment, so a special enclosure was made for them away from human contact, with hiding places for them, months before they were put on display," Mr Mehrdadfar said. They are now free to roam in an enclosure similar to their natural habitat. They have trees to climb and jump to and from, with hiding places if they want them.

"We gave the animals the choice of being seen or not. When that choice is given to an intelligent being, they adjust their level of comfort. With time they became more and more relaxed and began to exhibit their natural behaviour." Mr Mehrdadfar added that the animals were now exhibiting normal behaviour. They appeared relaxed, no longer treating humans as a threat. "Their recovery has been remarkable, and now they are experiencing a life they have never experienced before. This is truly a success story."

And that minor difficulty with the windows has been solved, too, said Mr Shalee. "We placed strips of tape across the glass so that they understand that there is something there that they cannot jump through," he said. ealghalib@thenational.ae