Exotic species and interactive displays, plus an ice rink, motel chalets and food courts, are hoped to increase visitors.
Zoo's expansion to focus on education
ABU DHABI // Tempted by cows, goats and camels, a six-year-old Emirati boy runs around trying to decide which animal to bottle-feed at the zoo.
Fatima al Mazrooei's son is probably one of the most loyal fans of the Family & Kids Park Zoo in the suburb of Al Bahia. His family visits the menagerie at least twice a month.
"With four children, we don't have that many choices inside Abu Dhabi when the kids are on holiday," Ms Mazrooei says. Her children, all under 10, love coming to the zoo to interact with the animals.
"I think it's important for my kids to feed the animals because at that age they live in a secluded area, whether it's an apartment or a villa, and they don't interact with animals or nature," she says.
The park is planning significant changes in the coming year to attract more customers and cater to children's education.
The expansion will begin with the opening of an indoor Ocean Park at the end of the month. Different species of marine life will be brought in from Indonesia and the Philippines and held in 26 saltwater and four freshwater tanks. A special facility for children will be available inside the aquarium.
"The kids will be educated on the hatcheries, which is where fish are cultivated and bred in an enclosed environment, and about their breeding process," Mark Wright, the zoo manager, says.
"We will have a substantial diversity of animals because we feel this is important for the younger generations to learn about all types of animals from across the world."
The zoo is expecting tree frogs from Brazil, bearded dragons from Australia and chameleons from Africa.
As Ms Mazrooei's son sprinted to feed the rabbits and horses, she lagged behind while managing her three-year-old.
"I think the expansion of the zoo is a great idea because we need more places for children here, like in Dubai," she says. When her children are on holiday, available activities are scarce.
"I noticed this time more animals could be fed by the kids and I will definitely come more often once it expands," she says.
Mr Wright says the four-hectare park will also open a Reptile and Amphibian House before the end of May, where exotic species from around the world will be displayed, and a Butterfly Park.
"We will also have a Chimpanzee Park and an indoor play and gaming zone, which can be used year round, opening in the next month or two."
The zoo opened in 2008 and houses 660 animals, including white tigers, lions, zebras and bears. It expects to double in size in the next year.
Kelly Morgan-Tremura, a teacher at Al Shohub school in Abu Dhabi, says she plans to tell her principal about the expansion - it could be a "good trip for the primary kids".
Ms Morgan-Tremura, who lives in Khalifa City A, and her three-year-old son have visited the zoo twice. Education was an important aspect of each visit.
Large posters explain the growth of coral. A garden section will teach children how to grow plants.
"We also have a new section of birds, including flamingos and pelicans, and I want the kids to be able to feed and interact with them," Mr Wright says.
The zoo's wild animal section will be expanded and is expected to open in six months with 15 different species and 60 new animals, including Arabian and African oryxes.
Other attractions include a full-sized ice rink, scheduled to open in a year, and 35 motel-chalets, which are planned before the end of 2011.
"The main entrance will be changed to an Arabian-type Disneyworld and there will be a couple of food courts," Mr Wright says.
"If we don't expand, we lose customers because they are always looking for something new. In the past three months, we've had up to 40,000 schoolchildren and 80,000 visitors."
The manager says he is confident of reaching his yearly target of 250,000 visitors.