Sunday, May 28, 2017

Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center - In and Around UAE

By: Hamza Shafique

Environment and Protected Areas Authority Sharjah has a lot of conservation and learning centers. I had my eyes set on Al Hefaiyah Mountain conservation center since I have been to Wasit Wet Land Center. It took me a while to visit this one as this one was 128 Km away at the base of Hajjar Mountains outside of Kalba. Thanks to recent Easter long weekend, I could finally make this short road trip.

Wasit wetland learning center exceeded my expectations, which automatically raises the level of expectation with Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center. I took the road advised by Google Maps, from Ajman it took me approx. 2 hours to reach there with a stopover of 10 to 15 mins. I always try to drive with in speed limits and suggest for you the same. Overall Drive is pleasant and safe, with good scenery. Mountainous landscape on both side of the road is a visual treat. At times, you will also find your ears closing as you drive through varying altitudes on your way. However, in the last 20 mins of the drive I would advise to be cautious as road becomes single track with heavy truck traffic, that will slow you down and test your patience.

We reached the center at around 01:00PM. In first look, it seemed closed as the parking was empty and place felt a bit deserted so I parked and went to the ticket counter which was a small cabin decorated with vine plant. Lucky for us it was open, it’s just people prefer to visit around 4:00 PM in summer and we will soon know why.Center is divided in to two parts just like Wasit Wetland center. One indoor, air conditioned exhibition area and second outdoor, a golf cart ride through the facility. We were directed to the indoor section first.

At the entrance, there is a small hall sort of area with reception where the tickets are stamped and a Café. Indoor facility is like a huge corridor constructed around the animal enclosures. This Corridor can be divided in three parts, first part where we have animals like Arabian Leopard, Striped Hyaenas, Fox etc. then second part is bit darker and contains reptiles and fish in small vivariums installed on the wall and has creatures like Scorpions, snake, Lizard etc. Third section has relatively smaller animals including birds of prey and ends with a bigger cafeteria with a view of massive Arabian Gazelle enclosure.

After that there is a nice gift shop with souvenirs at very affordable prices, and that’s the end of the indoor facility. From there you head to carts parking for outdoor tours.Mostly animals are kept in enclosures developed on the real mountains which put them in their natural habitat without need of any artificial landscaping.  This is impressive as you get to experience them the way they would be in wild. Another fascinating and very innovative feature of the facility is the addition of speakers to the enclosures that will play the animal voice as you pass next to the enclosures. These animals’ sounds enhanced the overall experience. These sounds created a very horror environment in the nocturnal area where the light was low and you could hear the loud hiss of snakes all around you. One thing that made my day was the bird of prey section where I could photograph the desert Owl (I can’t recall the actual name of this type). I have always wanted to photograph one and somehow Owls are never available in regular Aviaries and Zoos.We couldn’t see much of main animals as they were resting in their dens and that’s why the ideal time to visit is around 4:00 PM in summer, when they come out of their dens and roam around the enclosure. There is also an animal feeding kitchen where every 6:00 PM people can see different animals being fed (as informed by reception, we did not see it)

The whole indoor facility is full of Informative art and decor, just like Wasit wetland center, with maps showing where are the natural sanctuaries for the animals, which animals are endangered and can get extinct if proper attention is not done etc.

After that we head to Golf Cart safari, which was small may be 20 mins’ maximum. It will take you to the back side of the enclosures, the front of which is visible from the indoor section. We get to see Arabian Caracal, Mountain Wolf, Hyenas etc. here. There are very nice viewing sections here, which are very neatly designed wooden structures with vine plant creeping all over them giving them very earthen look. Here you also get the idea of how huge the whole facility and enclosures are.

Last enclosure here is, the Arabian Leopard enclosure and it has the best viewing tower. The way it’s designed it feels like you are in close proximity with the Arabian Leopard on the mountain but unfortunately Arabian Leopards were all resting so we couldn’t photograph or experience one from the watch tower.

If you choose evening time to visit, then you can club your visit with a beach visit which was very close or a visit to Bird of Prey center. Bird of Prey Center is not an indoor facility as informed by the cart driver so we decided not to go, instead on our way back we drove to Fujairah Castle and Sheikh Zayed Mosque Fujairah (which is a replica of Blue Mosque Turkey). Both were closed as still under repair but we did manage to get some photography done, so not a total loss. 

We chose the wrong time to visit so we couldn’t enjoy the facility to it's maximum but still it was enjoyable and we had a good time. My 2 year old Son loved it and so did I. With an entry ticket of only 25 dirhams for adult and free access for kids upto 12 years It's not a bad option for upcoming Eid Holidays. Highly recommended 
Photography used in this post is also by Hamza Shafique

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