Dubai: You Can’t Squeeze a Zoo and an Aquarium Into a Mall
The Dubai Mall is heralded as progressive — except in it how it treats animals. The United Arab Emirates is home to one of the largest and most expensive structures of our time. The mall is part of a jaw-dropping $20 million Downtown Dubai complex with more than 1,000 shops and a deluxe cinema.
The Shark Tank
The sharks really set the tone to the 2008 mall grand opening. As reported in The Telegraph, more than ten percent of the Dubai Aquarium’s sharks had been killed by other sharks before the mall even opened.
Mall officials are okay with this. As reported in The Telegraph, the mall’s general manager at the time explained that it’s “inevitable” that animals will die. Some will die of natural causes — even though they are in a totally unnatural environment — and others will die from inflicted injuries. Unsurprisingly, the sharks also displayed aggressive behavior towards the divers. During the aquarium set-up, there were two cases of injury that required immediate medical attention.
The mall’s management had a half-hearted response. In order to curb the sharks’ natural predatory instincts and aggressive behavior, the mall put the animals on a “monitored feeding schedule.”
The aquarium animals and aquarium visitors might not be safe. As The Guardian reported, in 2010, there was a small leak in the tank.
I guess a 10 million liter aquarium isn’t always big or safe enough for more than 33,000 living specimens.
Animals Forced in Entertainment
Not unlike the “Zoo Lates” that Susan Bird told us about where zoos open their doors after-hours for patrons to party with the animals complete with face masks, animal costumes, booze and disturbing noises, the Dubai Mall offers Night Safaris. The National reports that these artificial night-time safaris with an Amazon theme are a major hit. Visitors are provided with headlamps that they don’t really need, but work well “to attract the attention of some of the animals, particularly the penguins.” Visitors can also interact with some animals, e.g. hand-feeding an archerfish and touching sea stars and horseshoe crabs.
Visitors also flocked to mall spectacles like the Mermaid Show. Reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘O,’ the show featured divers dressed as merfolk and 140 species of living aquatic life. For the show’s run, more than 400 sharks and rays were subjected to loud noises, bright lights and unnatural human interactions three times a day.
If you didn’t think that it could get worse, then guess again. The Dubai Mall proudly showed off the house otters with serious artistic skills at The Great Otter Art Exhibition. Trainers taught the four otters how to grab a paintbrush and to paint on the easel before them; visitors get to choose what colors the gifted otters will use. As reported in The National, the otters are enthusiastic about the activity and painting “is also part of their enrichment training, giving them stimulus to cope with being in captivity.” I’ll just let that sink in.
There’s Nothing Educational About Trapped Animals
The latest additions to the mall’s collection are a pair of 750 kg crocodiles and the largest species of octopus — Giant Pacific Octopus — who weigh more than 70kg . The Gulf News reports that King and Queen Croc were brought in to introduce crocodile-related educational programs that are approved by the UAE Ministry of Education. Fortunately, no baby crocs will be born in captivity.
The reason? It has nothing to do with anti-breeding programs. It’s because Queen Croc has reached the end of her breeding cycle. Eyebrows should be raised whether the mall will follow many zoos’ footsteps with surplus breeding programs like the one that claimed the life of Marius the Giraffe.
Don’t be fooled — the use of exotic animals has little, if anything, to do with education. A theme park consultant, John Gerner, told CNN, “In a general, entertainment attractions have always been a way for countries to have bragging rights in the world. By having the best, the biggest and the fastest of everything, Dubai wants to show they’ve arrived on the world stage. In many ways, having record-breaking animals is another way to do that.”
Is the Dubai Mall Funding Wildlife Trafficking?
As Dubai grows, so does its illegal activity. There’s a growing concern about where the mall is obtaining their collection of wild and exotic animals. Dubai is a bridge between Asia and Africa, and a growing hotspot of international travel. A report from The National showed that traffickers are well aware of security protocols in the area’s airports. Custom officials can also be corrupted by changing the status of an endangered animal to non-endangered to bypass stricter regulations. Not to mention, there’s a growing demand in Dubai and the world for exotic pets. One of the most recent examples is of the man caught smuggling 16 wild bird eggs in his underwear.
Fortunately, animal welfare is growing in popularity in the UAE, but it will still take time. Do your part to help the captive animals imprisoned in the Dubai Mall by signing and sharing this petition asking the mall to shut down its animal attractions in a truly record-breaking and progressive act of compassion.
Photo Credit: Steven Byles