Top Animal Encounters in the UAE

12 Apr 2012

Get up close and personal with furry and flippered creatures in the UAE

Animal: Dolphins
They’re everyone’s favourite ocean-dwellers and who hasn’t watched Flipper and wanted to play in the deep blue with a friendly dolphin or two? At Atlantis The Palm’s specially created Dolphin Bay, you can meet the marine mammals through a choice of different activities. We recommend opting for the Dolphin Adventure, which includes an orientation session and 30 minutes of dolphin time.

You can even head out to the centre of the lagoon and then take the easy way back to shore with a belly ride (check out the main pic above)! Hold on tightly to the dolphin’s fins as it swims on its back towards shore – it’s quick, but definitely more thrilling than scary. Plus, you’ve got a life vest on and there are plenty of instructors around to put your mind at ease. If you’re not a swimmer, choose the Dolphin Photo Fun package. The 10-minute session at the water’s edge allows you to be close enough to touch, kiss and even dance with your new friend without getting in the water!

INFO: Dhs890 for the Dolphin Adventure (Dhs725 for hotel guests), ages 9 and up, wetsuits and towels included, Dhs325 for the Dolphin Photo Fun (Dhs265 for hotel guests), including a day pass to Aquaventure, 10am to sunset, daily, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai, 04 426 1030,

Animal: Giraffes          
There’s something super relaxed and chilled out about giraffes. Perhaps it’s because of their gawky appearance, with those long limbs and neck. Or maybe it’s the way they intently and slowly chew their food. Either way, if you want to marvel at them in person, Al Ain Zoo has a specially constructed giraffe feeding station, where you can feed them treats like carrots and lettuce straight from the palm of your hand. Be prepared, they have very long tongues that they use to grasp the food, so your hands can get a little sticky! We were nervous about them inadvertently chomping our hand with their big teeth, but the friendly keepers assured us that this very rarely happens.

While you’re there, you can also visit ‘Elezba’, a petting zoo where you can feed sheep, goats, camels, llamas, chickens and ducks. Be mindful that the animals aren’t fans of our favourite snacks (chocolates are a no-go), so you’ll have to buy some feed at the on-site kiosk.

INFO:  Dhs15 (adults), Dhs5 (kids), giraffe feeding is five times a day, the zoo is open 9am to 8pm until the end of May, and then from 4pm to 10pm from 1 June, Al Ain City, 03 782 8188,

Animal: Turtles
Every Wednesday and Friday the aquarium team from Burj Al Arab come down to Madinat Jumeirah to feed rescued turtles being nursed back to health in rehabilitation pens. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) was launched in 2007 after stranded turtles started washing up on the UAE’s beaches. So far, over 500 turtles, mostly Hawksbills and Green Seas, have recuperated over several months and been released back into the Arabian Gulf. DTRP are even using satellite technology to track five Green Sea turtles that have been released – Emerald, Maju, Moonlight, Jade and Dibba (who made it all the way to Sri Lanka!). You can follow their route from release to present location online.

The turtles held at Madinat Jumeirah are those who are almost ready to be released back into the wild, and the public can help feed them and learn more about the project – a great experience for animal and nature lovers as well as kids! This is a free activity and you don’t have to book a table at a restaurant, but if you want to make a day out of it, Mina A’ Salam do a fantastic Friday brunch, which you can enjoy while looking over the turtle pen.

INFO: Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project,,, feeding is at 11am on Wednesday, 1pm on Friday, Madinat Jumeirah, 04 366 8888,

Animal: Penguins
Ever since movies like Happy Feet and the smash hit doco March of the Penguins, we’ve been obsessed with these furry little creatures. Who could blame us? While they partner with their mate for life, penguins are super social and often live in communities millions in size, but parents and chicks use their incredible hearing to easily keep track of one another even in a crowd. Aww!

At Ski Dubai, you’ll suit up in snow gear and get a special safety brief before heading out to the white stuff to meet the newest residents of the indoor snow park. You can watch the penguins dive and frolic in a pool through a glass window and get up close and personal in a private holding area. The meet-the-penguins experience is incredibly special, particularly in the juxtaposition of this desert setting, but if it doesn’t leave you with a lump in your throat, the price of buying a picture as a souvenir will. Cameras aren’t allowed and photo prices are one for Dhs100 or a disc containing all the photos and three printed versions for Dhs400. You’d almost expect commentary from David Attenborough for that sum!

INFO: From Dhs175 for a 40 minute encounter where you’ll meet at least two penguins, 1pm to 9pm (weekdays), 12pm to 9pm (weekends), Mall of the Emirates, 04 409 4090,

Animal: Horses
Have your own Flicka moment and head to the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Nature Reserve, where you can saddle up and explore the vast protected area on horseback – you might even spot local wildlife like the Arabian Oryx, Rheem or Arabian Gazelle on your travels! A guide from the resort will take novices through at a leisurely pace, while more accomplished riders have the chance to trot and canter through the rolling valleys and dunes. Choose an early morning ride or wait until late afternoon, when you can head out and watch an Arabian sunset. Horse riding in the desert is especially awesome for newbies, because you don’t mind so much about falling off when you’re surrounded by deep soft sand dunes. Once you’re back on solid ground, head to the resort’s Saffron bar for sundowners on the terrace for a real Out of Africa experience not to be missed.

INFO: Dhs230 for a 45 minute ride and from Dhs130 for a basic lesson. Kids can ride a White Welsh pony around the reserve for Dhs60, 6.30am to 8.30 am and 4.30pm to 5.30pm, daily, Banyan Tree Al Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah, 07 206 7777,

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