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Al Ain Zoo Report


 10/28/2012 –11/1/2012


The purpose of the visit was to create an overall assessment of the Al Ain Zoo’s facilities in relation to behavioral enrichment, and to provide suggestions for improvements.


Water supply, water conservation and enrichment

The zoo has beautiful, large exhibits for most of the animals. Some of these enclosures contain over-sized ponds.


Baboon exhibit with large water pond                             Pond drained to increase floor space and decrease water usage


Suggestions: For those species that do not use them, these ponds could be drained and automatic waterers can be installed instead. Please review information regarding Lixit Automatic Dog Waterer for Outdoor Faucets & Spigots http://www.gundogsupply.com/-l100-.htm <http://www.gundogsupply.com/-l100-.htm>

The drains can be secured, covered and ponds could be filled with substrate. This could be a crucial step towards:

1. Conserving water

2. Redirecting water supply for irrigation for future browse gardens and grass in exhibits

3. Gaining larger floor space in exhibits

4. Saving considerable time, manpower and cleaning supply

 The management agreed that it was an idea they would indeed like to consider.

 Browse and browse gardens

The Phoenix Zoo’s “Beneficial Browse” presentation was given to show how gardens can be created in similar climates to that of the Sonoran Desert environment. The presentation was also provided in Arabic.

The Zoo has immediately started to work on providing browse and other plant materials for the animals. The mongooses are already receiving palm (see photograph).



Additionally the following information was provided:

1. Approved browse proposals by taxa

2. Approved herbs and spices proposals by taxa

3. Browse list and delivery system schedule for all species at the Phoenix Zoo

4. Information of Curator of Horticulture and BE Representative for further communications if more details are required


Suggestions; In order to provide fresh leafy branches to all species possible, browse gardens can be created. There are not enough browseable trees on zoo grounds to sustain the collection’s needs.

         Lucerne Alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Fresh Lucerne is very good substitute for trees and leafy branches due to its highly digestible fiber. Although, it is suggested not to be given every day and in high amounts due to its high protein content. This plant could be given to all primates and carnivores as well as to birds in suggested amounts as browse, substate or manipulanda detemined by the veterinarian.


         Farms and plantations. Building relationships with surrounding establishments all over in Al Ain that have access to plants being disposed regularly. These plants (if they are not sprayed with pesticides) could be regularly picked up and distributed to all animals needed. It would also create a good relationship between the zoo and the plantations.

         Only edible trees planted in and around exhibits. Geographically fitting, edible trees could be planted into each exhibit and along visitor pathways in abundance that would provide shade and food in a few years as well as making the zoo more pleasing for the human eye.

         Browse gardens could be established all over on zoo grounds. Since most of the trees will not geographically fit into the landscape, these gardens could be established either out of visitor’s view, or explained by signs for the visitors abut their purpose.


Grass in exhibits

The visitors do not seem to utilize most of the luscious, green areas.


Suggestions: Due to year around high temperature it would be beneficial to grow grass in animal exhibits instead to provide:

1. Temperature control (grass itself decreases exhibit temperatures by 10-15 F)

2. Nutritional supplement and foraging opportunities

3. Behavioral enrichment

4. Medical aid (soft surface to prevent possible foot problems)

5. Naturalistic exhibits


For the visitors long pathways surrounded with acacia and mesquite tress that require less water but could provide luxurious shaded areas



Substrate use and Contra freeloading (Foraging enrichment)

Both presentations were given to staff. The Contra freeloading presentation was available in both Arabic and English. The Substrate presentation is currently being translated.

Timothy hay was placed for substrates and some browse for foraging and nest building into all primate exhibits. Please review animals being active and busy foraging through substrate on the picture below.


Exhibit with rocks and soil                                               



Same exhibit with hay or sod. All animals are peacefully foraging


Suggestions: Continue keeping animals off of hard/ cold/ wet/ dry, unyielding surfaces (concrete, tile, wood floor, etc.). It will make a significant difference not only to the animals’ health but also to improve the aesthetics of the exhibits. It was suggested to purchase Bermuda hay- due to Timothy hay being more expensive.


Carnivore night house areas need the most attention in regards to substrate. Due to having only one exhibit for a large number of animals (even if the animals are rotated) the animals hardly have any time to be outside. These animals are kept on the bare surface with almost no furniture or substrate and without objects to manipulate. These animals need toys/foraging devices such as boomer balls with dry food, jungle balls, logs to tear apart and browse, cardboard boxes, etc., to play with. In order to maintain the enrichment program of such large amount of carnivores, it is suggested to increase the number of staff as well as to change to work hours from 8AM-12PM and 3AM-6PM to a continuous full eight hour work from 7AM to 4PM.


Another easy way to provide enrichment would be to switch different species to different exhibits such as moving the white tiger into the puma exhibit providing a much larger pool and different environment.

Additional carnivore enrichment ideas: http://www.ottoenvironmental.com/shopexd.asp?id=6815&bid=False


 Breeding/Inbreeding and Euthanasia

Even if the carnivores or any other species kept inside were provided with the best enrichment programs possible, the problem of rotating such a large collection of animals (to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, rain, soil, etc.) would remain. While exhibit animals are kept in large, luxurious exhibits, the rest of the over-populated collection is being held inside in small, empty cages. Some of these animals (mostly lions) in my understanding are inbred to the point of being born without their legs or without paws in order to reach more popular colors.


Suggestions: Extensive breeding could be prevented by euthanizing all animals that are inbred or whose quality of life is poor and placing the rest of the animals under birth control. Once the collection becomes a manageable size, inbreeding can be avoided by tracking down information of the animals’ origin. If information is not available, DNA exams can verify which individuals can be bred with whom.


Exhibit furniture and 3 Dimensions

In some of the exhibits/displays (especially carnivore night houses) animals can only (or mostly) use floor space.

Suggestion: To further improve quality, permanent and flexible furniture needs to be installed to each cage. Animals need both in order to develop/exhibit proper motor skills. Night houses, sleeping quarters, animal holding pens should utilize three dimensions by adding large tree trunks, ropes, fire hoses, hammocks, wooden shelves, etc., to increase space and opportunities to the animals for exercise, exploration and manipulation.

Outside furniture needs to be built from wood, ropes or any kind of natural materials as opposed to metal and recycled plastic. Flexible furniture could be attached by clips and carabineers and the ropes’ locations moved periodically (such as clipping ropes from one direction to another) so enrichment would not become enhancement.


Birds in the Back of House

These animals are kept in a rather small area in large numbers with inadequate perching and without sunshine.

Suggestions: The diameters of the perches are so big that the birds’ feet need to be stretched out at all times. This may cause tendon and joint problems or possible bumble foot in the future. Natural tree perches with a large variety of diameters would be more feasible. Please see example pictures from the Phoenix Zoos’ browse presentation:







 Inadequate large diameter perch vs. large variety of perches with different diameters


A reduction in the number of birds would be also beneficial.



Next to this bird area BOH there were some tortoises in a fairly large exhibit.

Suggestions: These animals could use a large mud pile (besides their pool) to provide better skin care, protection from the sun and also temperature regulation (allow them to cool off in the summer heat). Also, if food were scattered, the animals could forage for longer time.



Suggestions: The porcupine needs to be moved out of the reptile house and into an outside mixed exhibit as the animal does not get to be seen nor does he get any natural sunlight.


Social enrichment

Very impressively, only few primates were kept in solitary confinement due to preventing inbreeding or because the animals did not get along.

As there is no hope to receive another gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) for the lone female whose mate died, there are not many options for her. She had a rabbit as her companion. She also received a stuffed toy to play with. The rest of the animals (patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas); vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) and White handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) were immediately moved and/or accessed next to each other to have direct tactile, visual or olfactory contact with conspecifics. Soft, introductions were started and will continue by the Primate Manager.


Suggestion: Until the females’ birth control starts working, animals can be rotated in a way of keeping father-son inside while having the female outside (gibbons) or letting the male stay with one female inside while the second is on exhibit but accessed next to them (Patas) etc. Also, sick animals that are highly social can be paired up with a companion animal with veterinarian approval to decrease stress level.




Again, impressively (compared to so many zoos) I found all chimpanzees in group settings. Group 4 was exhibited behind the scenes while Group 3 was visible for the public.




Suggestions: Since the animals are in small groups and Group 3’s exhibit is much larger with green grass as well; it would be desirable if these animals could be introduced to each other. The management was also considering renovating and connecting all for enclosures of the old exhibit and house the chimpanzees there eventually. Please let me know if we can move forward in developing a comprehensive introduction plan to improve the welfare of captive chimpanzees.

All chimpanzees need to receive milk, yogurt and hard boiled eggs for protein. They could also receive herbal tea.


General enrichment

The zoo just has started its enrichment program. It is laudable that a permanent Nutrition & Enrichment Section Head position was established to oversee the program and even more commendable that the new c Section Head was already traveling to see other zoos’ enrichment programs and brought in a consultant to gain additional insight.


Enrichment scheduling and basic documentation was started on hard copies and will be transferred in the future to computers. However, most of the workers (with the exception to the management staff) are not computer literate and some of them cannot read or write, so the process could take a while.

In order to help improving current program the following documentations were provided:

         Enrichment monthly schedules

         Enrichment evaluation templates with rating scales

         Articles and power point presentations regarding enrichment ideas, establishing enrichment programs, involving the community and incorporating behavioral enrichment into every day management.

         Information about establishing and managing a Behavioral Enrichment Committee including enrichment and training representative job descriptions

         Training 101 in-house school class for beginner trainers



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