Dubai Safari to Have one of the Largest ‘Frozen Zoos’
Animals roaming in the wild and air-conditioned rocks keeping them cool are not just the highlights of Dubai Safari that is expected to open its doors to visitors in September. It is also set to become one of the largest ‘frozen zoos’ in the world that can help preserve the genetic pool of animals and prevent their extinction.
“The new Dubai Safari will hold a ‘frozen zoo’,” Tim Husband, the technical director of Dubai Safari said.
“[It will have] first a sperm bank and later on an embryo bank, where we will hold genetic materials of many different species so that we will be able to not only help with our own collection but in time to help with other collections [in zoos] around the world. The goal is to have one of the largest frozen zoos in the world,” he said.
There are only a few frozen zoos in the world. To become a leading one among them, Dubai Safari will have a state-of-the-art laboratory that will store sperm, tissue samples and embryos of animals in liquid nitrogen. The cryopreservation of genetic materials will be done in sub-zero temperatures. The preserved sperm will be provided to other zoos as well for animal reproduction programmes such as artificial insemination.
Computer dating for animals
To prevent inbreeding or mating of related animals, which leads to decreased biological fitness of a population, Dubai Safari will also incorporate modern technology in its breeding programme.
“Every animal will have a chip put in it and carry an ID number. If you scan the chip, you will get all the details stored in the stock book of the animal,” said Husband.
The stock book will have the full profile of each animal, including details of other animals related to it. “You feed the ID number of the animal and bang it comes up on the computer that this animal is related to this one and this one and not related to this and that, etc.”
Dubbing it as “computer dating for animals,” Husband said the technology-assisted breeding programme that prevents inbreeding will help ensure that the frozen zoo in Dubai Safari has the best quality gene pool of animals.
“If something happens to any animal’s population, we will have the gene pool here to release them into the wild.”
Husband said the breeding programme will start as soon as the stock of animals is in and the frozen zoo will start as soon as the lab is ready.
Dubai Safari is slated to house almost 3,500 animals in its first phase. Around 500 of them have already arrived at the nearly 120-hectare facility in Al Warqa which aims to be the biggest wildlife conservation project in the region.
A conservation centre will be part of the project. It will support field research and educational activities.
Apart from providing educational tours to school students at Dubai Safari, Husband said, guides will be sent to schools in Dubai to talk about animals and conservation programmes.
“I want to really push to have a kids’ club where they can come here one day during weekend and get to be with the guides to explore more about wildlife conservation,” he said.
A frozen zoo is a zoo that has the laboratory facility for cryopreservation of animal genetic resources. Sperms, oocytes, embryos and somatic cells are generally preserved by cooling to very low temperatures (typically -80 °C using solid carbon dioxide or -196 °C in liquid nitrogen) for using them again for animal reproduction.