DUBAI – Mega malls, towering skyscrapers and beautiful beaches. These are undoubtedly what Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) is famous for.
Within the hustle and bustle of this sprawling city that never sleeps, this writer found that there is another side of the city that will appeal to any nature lover, a wetland reserve and a sanctuary for migratory birds.
Dubai’s Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (RAKWS) is located at the head of the Dubai Creek, a 14km long water course. Hence its name Ras Al Khor which means “Cape of the Creek”.
According to its official website, the sanctuary covers an area of 620 hectares. During the winter months November-April, it is the home to more than 20,000 water birds of 67 species and a perfect ground for birdwatchers.
RAWKS also hosts more than 500 species of flora and fauna.
WHAT AN AMAZING SIGHT
This writer made it a point to visit this park after searching the Internet about local attractions in Dubai besides the usual shopping malls and beaches.
Wildlife sanctuary? Dubai? It was hard to imagine in a place known to be sitting on a desert but there it was!
It was even easy to spot this wetland site even from afar. Not only because of its vastness but the serenity of its surroundings and the clear winter sky.
The whole area is fenced off, a clear indication that it is a protected area.
When the writer arrived at the park, there were only three vehicles parked at the designated car park indicating no big crowd. After all it was a Monday morning, a working day.
THE FAMED FLAMINGOES
The sight of the birds there mesmerise visitors. The most distinguished of all the migratory birds at RAWKS is the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), with its pink feathers being the most conspicuous feature.
This writer made the right decision to pick this particular viewing platform as this spot was near where the flamingoes practically parked themselves.
A check in the internet showed Greater Flamingo is the most widespread species that can be found in parts of Africa, southern Asia (coastal regions of Pakistan and India), and southern Europe (including Spain, Albania, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Italy and the Camargue region of France).
It is said to be the largest species of flamingo, averaging 110-150 cm (43-60 inches) in height and weighing 2-4 kg (4.4-8.8 lbs).
There are about 500 Greater Flamingoes at the sanctuary and their presence at the sanctuary are clearly felt. Even the garbage bins at the sanctuary’s car park portrayed colourful pictures of the Greater Flamingoes. What more, the bird is also the mascot for Dubai’s Wild Life protection programme.
It was a pleasant short walk from the entrance to the observation deck. Instead of concrete walls flanking both sides of the walkway, it was covered with palm leaves.
“Palm leaves from date trees,” this writer made a guess while taking a closer look. After all date trees are very significant in Dubai, with many road dividers and parks planted with the trees.
Inside the observation deck, there were only five people excluding the park attendant.
As two of them appeared with ‘powerful and well equipped cameras’, this writer was convinced that they were professional photographers.
These two already ‘captured’ the best spot to snap photographs of the flamingoes.
The writer had to be contented with the little space between the two to get some shots of the flamingoes and at times deliberately ‘encroached’ into the ardent bird enthusiasts’ well-guarded territory.
BUSY TIMES FOR RAWKS
According to park attendant Zulfiqar Ahmad, the park opens its door from 9.00 am to 4.00 am from Saturday to Thursday and entrance is free.
“The best time would be the feeding time from 10.00 am and 3.30 pm,” Zulfiqar from Pakistan told this writer.
There are three observation decks built at strategic corners of the park to enable visitors observe the wildlife. The one we were on is the first station.
Binoculars and telescopes are provided for close-up views of the birds. Posters and information on the wildlife species adorned the walls within the observation deck.
While briefing the writer on the park, he pointed to the posters and several times took a peek at the telescope and called the writer to take a look as well.
On the flamingoes, Zulfiqar said; “I was told these flamingoes are from Siberia and Iran. They are very clever. At night they will rest behind the mangroves and gather here when nearing feeding time. “They will be here from 8 am to 5.30 pm.
When asked about visitors to this part of the sanctuary, he lifted a visitor’s book and pointed that they came from as far as UK, US, China, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Italy.
According to Zulfiqar, the sanctuary was a major draw during the holiday season where the first station alone would receive about 200 visitors a day.
“In December 2014, I counted 3,000 visitors for the first station alone. The other two stations combined number of visitors were 2,000,” said Zulfiqar.
LOVE FOR NATURE
Meanwhile, the two camera totting gentlemen that this writer mentioned earlier were Jason D’Almeida, a qualified mechanical engineer and Dr Saurendra Das, a medical doctor.
Both genial gentlemen share one thing in common, “the love for nature.”
They were excited when the writer wanted to interview them on their bird watching hobby and were even willing to be photographed.
Jason has been living in the UAE for more than 30 years. The Indian citizen left his engineering profession to take up professional photography.
“I have been to this sanctuary a couple of times. I like the place so much. It is a peaceful place and brings me closer to nature.
“It is one of the few places in Dubai which has not lost its natural elements to urbanisation,” said Jason adding that he also liked to photograph people, places and culture.
As for Saurendra, the visit to the sanctuary was his first.
“For every place I visit, I do a google search to look for birds and wildlife places.
“I found out that at this sanctuary there is a big flock of flamingoes and I immediately planned to visit this sanctuary on my trip to Dubai,” he told the writer.
The New Delhi, India, based doctor found the sanctuary an excellent place to get good shots of the elegant birds.
“The viewing room is an excellent idea that allows you to get close to the birds without impeding on their routine activity and privacy.
“Seeing the feeding activity right in front of the viewing window is a huge benefit for photographers and bird enthusiasts.
“The room is very strategically built to give the viewer and the photographer a panoramic view as well as a close up view of the birds,” said Saurendra.
Both Jason and Saurendra lauded the Dubai government’s efforts in protecting the wildlife and establishing RAWKS.
“For me this is one of the best efforts of Dubai. The marina is man-made but Ras Al Khor (RAKWS) is not, it is natural.
“For someone who has lived in Dubai all these years and watched the city grow, Dubai’s endeavour to preserve its natural environment is greater than their effort to build Burj Khalifa,” added Jason.
The Burj Khalifa (formerly known as Burj Dubai) is a magnificent skyscraper located at Downtown Dubai and dubbed as the world’s tallest building. – Bernama