By Anna Zacharias
When Mayed Al Baloushi leaves home every morning, his mother calls to him: “Be careful. Don’t let the lions eat you.”
In other jobs, this would be metaphorical.
Not for Mr Al Baloushi. The carnivore keeper at Al Ain Zoo spends his days with lions, Bengal tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, pumas, servals and a pair of sibling white tigers named Sugar and Spice.
“This is for today,” says the Emirati, opening an enormous double-door fridge loaded with camel meat. He walks to a freezer filled with metal buckets of frozen bones, blood and camel flesh. “These are enrichment for the lions. We hang them.”
Bloody ice cubes suspended in lion cages are not just nutritious, they give the lions the chance to play, too.
Even after the reopening of Al Ain Zoo’s five Big Cat exhibitions at Eid Al Adha, the carnivores Mr Al Baloushi cares for face a challenge – the zoo is full. There are 25 lions, 10 pumas, nine servals, seven cheetahs, four jaguars and three Bengal tigers. There is no room for any more cats.
The Al Ain Zoo faces an unusual dilemma of an oversupply of lion donations from private owners.
UAE legislation forbids the sale of any animal on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) list without government permits. Even so, cheetah and lion cubs make popular pets and serve as status symbols. When cuddly cubs grow into instinctual killers, people turn to the zoo.
“When they start getting bigger they start showing their genetics, they show that they’re a carnivore, so at this age they start to get rid of them” said Myyas Al Qarqaz, the animal-collection manager. More....