Al Wabra covers an area of 2.5 sq km, holding more than 480 cages, aviaries and enclosures.Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation’s (AWWP) animal staff consist of more than 50 people, divided into veterinarians, curators, biologists and wild animal keepers. Another 150 support staff (maintenance, construction and horticulture) also work at AWWP.
AWWP is an associated member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the only member in Qatar. This is a quality stamp acknowledging that AWWP works towards the highest standards in the captive care of wild animals. AWWP is an internationally reputed research and conservation centre collaborating with several government and non-government organisations across the world.
Close to the town of Al Sheehaniya in central Qatar, Lubara farm accommodates AWWP. This private breeding and research centre is home to a collection of wild and exotic animal species either rare in captivity or threatened in the wild. The preservation is non-commercial and not open to the public.
Sheikh Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, a Qatari national and hailed as one of the foremost art collectors in the world, has a deep interest in wildlife conservation. Al Wabra was initially a hobby farm. In the past 12 years, AWWP has travelled a rigorous path to complete the transition from a private animal collection to an internationally recognised research and breeding centre for threatened species.
In 2007, the 3,600 sq m main building was completed. It accommodates the veterinary laboratory, wild animal hospital, pharmacy, storage rooms, nurseries, food kitchen, offices and a lecture room. The latter facilitates education sessions, workshops and lectures.
Collaborations with universities exist, educating future generations of wildlife experts and also ensuring the evaluation of AWWP’s scientific data. School tours are an almost daily occurrence; AWWP is working to integrate the tours into the school syllabus in Qatar. All staff live on-site in modern purpose-built accommodation.
Mission and Vision
AWWP wants to create a world where extinction of species and loss of habitat is stopped and even reversed by being a global leader in education, research and conservation of endangered animals and their habitats.
The animal collection includes just above 2,000 wild animals, consisting of 90 different species (60% mammals, 35% birds, 4% reptiles and 1% amphibians/fish). Many of the species are endangered and are managed through European Endangered Species programmes (EEP) or regional and national species plans.
The Jewels of New Guinea: Birds of paradise are shy, exquisitely plumed birds that can be found navigating through the forest canopy or hiding in the undergrowth. Native to Papua New Guinea and closely neighbouring islands, these birds are considered by many to be the most beautiful birds on earth.
An artificial rain forest – in the desert: AWWP keeps seven types of birds-of-paradise in its collection. They are housed in aviaries with indoor and outdoor compartments. The indoor aviaries are temperature controlled and the outdoor ones have an artificial rainfall system to stimulate conditions in their natural habitat.
Breeding success: AWWP is renowned for its pioneering reproductive successes in King, Greater, Twelve-wired, Red and lesser bird-of-paradise by regular parent rearing from self-sustaining populations in captivity. Sometimes, artificial incubation and hand-rearing of chicks is used to improve the reproductive output of these birds.
The birds without feet: Birds-of-paradise were first described from specimens brought back to Europe from trading expeditions. These specimens, that had been prepared by native traders, had their wings and feet removed and used as decorations, especially as headdresses for ladies. This fact was not known to the explorers and led to the belief that the birds never landed but were kept permanently in the air by their long plumes. This is the origin of both the family name ‘Birds of Paradise’ and the species name for the Greater bird of paradise, ‘apoda’ which in Latin means ‘without feet’.
The Rarest Blue Macaw: Of the three blue macaw species kept at AWWP, the flagship species is the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixil) as it is possibly the most threatened parrot in the world today. This sleekly built bird supports varying shades of blue and gray, except for the undersides of their wing and tail feathers, which are black.
On The Brink: Endemic to a small area in north eastern Brazil, the Caatinga, the species has not been seen in its natural environment since October 2000. Since then, the species is considered to be extinct in the wild and its fate rests on the efforts of an international captive breeding programme. As of November 2012 there are 79 Spix’s macaws included in the official studbook, managed by AWWP, under the direction of the Brazilian government. Sixty birds (76% of the world’s population) can call AWWP their home.
Reproduction: In 2012, AWWP successfully bred five chicks, increasing its population of Spix’s macaws to 60 birds. Since 2004, the development of optimal housing, nutrition and unique health programmes resulted in the hatching of 33 birds with 100% rearing success. The vision of Sheikh Saoud is to breed enough Spix’s macaws to re-establish a wild population in their native habitat in Brazil. AWWP staff also manage four Spix’s macaws in Brazil on behalf of the Brazilian government in Sao Paulo in the conservation centre NEST.
‘Ungulate’ literally means any animal with hooves. Taxonomically, there are two ungulate groups: the even toed (Artiodactylids) and ‘odd toed’ (Perissodactylids). Both groups are represented in large herbivorous mammals.
Most of the hoofed animals kept at AWWP belong to the even toed ungulates. Twenty-three species including antelope, wild sheep and goats live on the premises.
Many of them are threatened in the wild or unique in captivity. Some of these species are managed as part of international breeding programmes. AWWP participates with five of its ungulate species in such programmes.
The Beira Antelope
AWWP is the only known institution in the world where this little antelope is kept and bred. Its scientific name, originating from Greek, translates to ‘antelope with the large ears’. The homeland of the Beira antelope lies in the eastern border of Africa (Djibouti and Somalia), where it lives in small, territorial groups in arid mountains at altitudes up to 2,000 m.
Somali Wild Ass
The only representative of the group of odd-toed ungulates at AWWP is the Somali wild ass, recognised as the most endangered wild equid worldwide. Due to over-hunting, competition with livestock and habitat destruction, the population in their natural range, the Horn of Africa, has reduced dramatically.
They are listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. AWWP’s Somali wild ass group is part of the international breeding programme for the species. This breeding programme manages the entire captive population of Somali wild asses. It is an essential tool to maintain a genetically sustainable and healthy captive population.
The Gerenuk is an easily identified antelope with long slender legs and neck. The word ‘Gerenuk’ comes from the Somali language, meaning ‘giraffe-necked’. The elongated neck and the ability to stand erect on their hind legs give them the opportunity to obtain food from areas inaccessible to other gazelles.
Gerenuks are quite sensitive due to their special nutritional needs. In the wild they live solely on fresh leaf shoots, buds, fruits and blossoms. AWWP has great breeding and rearing successes in this species. Their distribution is the Horn of Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.
A Dwarf Antelope
With its 2–3 kg body weight, the Phillip’s dikdik is one of the smallest antelopes in the world. The species is endemic to north east Africa, where it inhabits various types of semi-desert scrub. They are territorial and live predominantly in monogamous pairs. The Phillip’s dikdik are kept and successfully bred at AWWP, currently the only institution keeping this species.
The fastest mammal: Cheetahs are known as the fastest land mammals. They catch their prey, principally small to mid-sized ungulates, in high speed chases at up to 120 kph. Cheetahs are primarily found in open grassy habitats, but also make use of dry forest, savanna woodland, semi-desert and scrub. Several subspecies are described.
North east African cheetah: AWWP keeps the north-east African cheetah, commonly named the Somali cheetah. This subspecies is under much greater threat in the wild than their southern counterparts. Therefore, an endangered species breeding programme was created in 2007 to manage the captive population with the aim of maintaining as much genetic diversity within the captive population as possible. AWWP takes part in this programme to ensure the future survival of the species or subspecies.
Arabian sand cat breeding: AWWP is well known for its flourishing success in breeding one of the smallest representatives of the felid family: the Arabian sand cat. As part of the international breeding programme many AWWP born sand cats have been sent to zoological facilities around the world to improve the genetics of the existing captive populations
A true desert dweller: The nocturnal sand cat is restricted to the deserts of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and parts of west Asia. Despite its widespread range, Felis margarita populations might be locally extirpated by feral cats and dogs or by diseases and parasites. The sand cat is well adapted to its harsh desert habitat. Furred paws protect the cat from the hot shifting sand while walking. The large distinctive ears not only help to detect subtle vibrations in the sand made by small desert animals, but also aids in keeping the body cool by radiating heat. Sand cats prey on desert rodents, lizards, large insects, birds and snakes. The days are spent in deep burrows dug by them.
Veterinary care: The work of a veterinarian at AWWP involves a high degree of flexibility. Knowledge of diseases, nutrition, physiology and biology of all the different species, from a tiny little 4 g poison arrow frog up to a 350 kg wild ass is essential.
Only this knowledge will ensure professional healthcare, particularly in the extreme conditions in Qatar. Apart from routine treatments, AWWP’s veterinary team develops health and vaccine programmes, quarantine measures, and sets up research programmes. To this end, specialists from a variety of disciplines are invited to join the AWWP team to train staff and ensure the latest techniques are used. Staff also attend and present at top international conferences.
Laboratory Department – Disease Investigation and Research
In order to provide veterinary service to the animals, obtaining results of laboratory tests as fast as possible is often essential in ensuring the survival of the animal. Therefore, AWWP has set up its own laboratory which covers basic cytology, bacteriology, parasitology, haematology, biochemistry, and autopsy.
Many research projects are constantly active in different areas. High priority reproductive research is done in the laboratory in collaboration with internationally renowned universities and expert consultants.
Hand rearing: Hand rearing of ungulates at AWWP is a management tool mainly used to calm down very nervous groups. Also in addition orphans and maternally neglected newborns are hand reared by the experienced staff of the mammal department.
To avoid the so called ‘Berserkers syndrome’, an aggressive behaviour towards man, mainly shown by hand reared, human imprinted males when reaching maturity, it is always preferable to hand rear at least two animals at a time.
The first priority when receiving a neonate for hand rearing is to evaluate its medical condition such as temperature, hydration level, body weight and vitality. Techniques like vocalisation, nursing postures and physical stimulation help establish a bond between the keeper and the animal.
Rearing regime: The fawn will receive an elaborately constituted formula consisting of lamb milk replacer, goat’s milk, bovine colostrum, water and vitamin/mineral supplements. Initially, it is fed five to six times a day. After four weeks the number of bottle feeds gradually decrease until the fawn has reached the weaning age of three to four months, depending on the species.
Author: Sarah Mascarenhas
The ‘Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation’ article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section from Marhaba Information Guide Issue 60.
Copyright © Marhaba Information Guide. Reproduction of material from Marhaba Information Guide’s book or website without written permission is strictly prohibited. Using Marhaba Information Guide’s material without authorisation constitutes as plagiarism as well as copyright infringement.