The long wait to look inside the new and improved Dubai Safari park is finally over after the gates to a hidden animal kingdom swung open for the first time in more than two years.
Spread across five different zones, Africa, Asia, Arabian Desert Safari, Explorer and Adventure Village, the 119-hectare animal attraction welcomed back its first visitors this week.
Nestled into the vast green spaces surrounded by waterfalls and artificial rock faces, visitors can find a huge collection of some 3,000 animals.
The park in Al Warqa has undergone several management changes since 2017.
Now back in the hands of Dubai Municipality the alterations look to have been worth the delays, with greater focus on conservation, education and sustainability.
Three female elephants and a male elephant from Zimbabwe arrived in 2018 but have gone on public show for the first time in the UAE.
“We have a dedicated team looking after them 24 hours a day,” said Shamshad Alam, a wildlife scientist from India who specialises in carnivore ecology.
“They were first conditioned in a holding area to gradually get used to their new surroundings, with a water misting system to help maintain a cooler temperature for them,” said Dr Alam.
“We have planted lots of trees here so we can harvest our own food for the elephants as they eat a lot.”
The elephants named Tembo, Madiba, Zulu and Jijinga are only six years old, but already each weighs a tonne and is likely to grow to three times that size.
They could live to be about 70, with Dubai Safari planning to increase the size of their enclosure as they grow in size.
By the time they are 12, keepers hope they will breed so offspring can be shared with other zoos around the world to continue wildlife education programmes.
The park was billed as the jewel in the crown of Dubai tourism when it first opened in late 2017.
When it closed less than six months later to “enhance the visitor experience” it was expected to re-open the following winter.
When that did not happen, some feared the project could be permanently closed.
Work behind the scenes has since polished the attraction into something resembling what many hoped it would become, with lush surroundings and plenty of space for animals to roam.
Quality rather than quantity is the new directive, according to curators, who said fewer animals gives them more space to replicate similar behaviour as seen in the wild.