Meet Otto the Hippo and Other New Additions to Emirates Zoo Park
Otto the hippopotamus emerged from the shadows, shuffling his stumpy legs to the edge of a sunlit pond.
He lowered his snout as though to test the temperature then gracefully submerged his full weight into the water.
Before long, the lone hippo was slowly spinning his large body underwater, the tips of his webbed feet poking out, oblivious to the renovations that have been taking place all around him at Emirates Park Zoo and Resort.
The four-year-old African hippo is one many new animals on display in a 6,500-square-metre extension that opened to the public last month.
The renovated area, which takes up about a third of the property, features new exhibition space with enhanced viewing and teaching areas, and groups animals according to their natural ancestral relations.
The camel pens, for example, are next to the alpacas and llamas. Water buffalos and cows are side by side, as are ponies and horses.
The new layout offers space for zoo experts to host “keeper talks” throughout the day with visitors.
Many enclosures also have designated areas that allow guests to feed or touch the animals at scheduled times.
The facility, which started out as a small petting zoo in 2008, now features 1,500 animals from 250 species.
“We are an interactive zoo,” said Dr Waleed Shaaban, its operations manager. “We don’t only display animals in their natural environments. We give visitors a chance to interact with animals.”
The new birds of prey centre allows visitors to get up close with more than 25 species.
The birds’ trainers regularly pull one of the residents of its enclosure to allow guests to take photos with owls, vultures or falcons.
“Wow, amazing,” Australian visitor Angela Farcic said as she stood inches away from a turkey vulture perched with its wings outstretched on a zookeeper’s arm. “It’s wonderful.”
A recently opened outdoor amphitheatre with a stage and sea lion pool allows the zoo to host educational and cultural shows.
“The sea lions come out and do their normal behaviour and we educate the guests about them and the conservation issues they are facing in nature, and how we can help them,” said Dr Shaaban.
“We also have entertainment shows, such as African dance. At the end of the dance, they talk about their culture and African animals.”
He said education was central to the zoo’s operations.
“It’s an educational institute rather than, say, just entertaining,” Dr Shaaban said.
“This is our aim, to do more education, because education contributes to conservation. At the end of our talks we emphasise that we all need to do our part in conservation.
“So if we like these animals and we know more about them, we feel compelled to protect them and save them.”
The zoo will soon launch aerial obstacle courses, complete with suspension bridges and zip lines, to give young visitors a birds-eye view of animal pens as part of phase two of its renovation.
Construction of the two aerial parks — one for teenagers and another for younger children — over open enclosures of small animals is expected to be completed this month. They will open later this year after the finishing touches are applied.
“They will have a jungle adventure, so they can watch the animals from the top without disturbing them, rather than only getting a side view,” said Dr Shaaban.
The 83 rooms in the zoo’s resort have also been recently renovated, said hotel manager Ibrahim Salim.
A full-service restaurant is expected to open at the resort in August and construction is under way on seven villas, each featuring eight rooms, and a communal pool that will opennext year.