What animals are native to Dubai and what animal-based experiences are on offer?
Curious as to what animals can survive and thrive in the extreme desert conditions of Dubai? You may be surprised by just how many native species you’ll find in Dubai – from the Arabian Gulf waters to the desert and mountainous regions of the United Arab Emirates.
- Dubai’s native wildlife
- Where to experience camels in Dubai
- Where to experience Falconry in Dubai
- Outdoor sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE
- Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE
- Best animal experiences beyond Dubai
Dubai’s native wildlife
There’s a huge range of native species that can be found in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. You may be lucky to come across some of these mammals in the Dubai desert and mountains (yes, the UAE has mountains!):
- Arabian Oryx (vulnerable)
- Arabian Tahr (endangered)
- The Arabian Leopard (critically endangered)
- Arabian Sand Gazelle (threatened)
- Striped Hyena (near-threatened)
- Sand Cat
- Arabian Wolf
Native to the waters, in addition to over 500 species of fish you will find:
- Hawksbill turtles (critically endangered)
- Green Turtles (endangered)
- Humpback dolphins
- Sea snakes
- Whale sharks
This is in addition to a huge number of migratory birds, bats, reptiles and insects.
It is a little bit dated but this is one of the better guides we can find to native species by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency if you are looking to dig deeper into the UAE’s native species. Emirates Nature WWF is another good resource.
Where to experience camels in Dubai
Camels are most likely the animal that first comes to mind when imagining a trip to Dubai. A domesticated rather than wild animal, these “Ships of the Desert” are much-revered creatures in the UAE; Emiratis are proud and passionate about their camels.
An important part of traditional Bedouin life, camels have historically not only been a source of food for their milk and meat but also a form of transportation; their hair can be woven for shelter and they are a form of currency and status. Camels found in the Arabian Peninsular are dromedaries – single-humped camels.
The easiest and most practical way to see a camel and even opt into camel rides is to take a desert safari during your stay in Dubai (we’ll explain more below). Alternatively, you could also look to:
- Attend a camel race at Al Marmoom camel race track – wake early to catch the trackside action with robotic jockeys, and a lot of sound colour and 4×4’s too!
- Visit the Camel Farm and engage in some camel hug therapy! Longer treks and other hands-on experiences are available at this dedicated camel experience location, just outside of the city.
- Take a camel ride along the beach at JBR – yes it’s touristy, but if time is limited this is your best chance to catch a camel ride close to town.
You can see our complete guide on where to ride a camel in Dubai here
Where to experience Falconry in Dubai
If there’s one animal possibly even more revered than the camel in Dubai, it’s falcons. Falconry was a vital part of Bedouin life, and the culture lives on with falconry still being seen as a much sort-after skill, even with the younger generation.
There are a few ways to have a falcon encounter near Dubai. Close the to city, look up the program of events with Wild Flight Dubai – a company that actively does pest control using falcons, they also provide demonstrations and cater to corporate groups.
Wild Flight can also regularly be seen in the program of heritage experiences on offer at The Ritz-Carlton, Ras Al Khaimah Al Wadi Desert. You will catch camel rides and a huge range of wildlife experiences while staying in this incredible corner of the desert. Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is only around 40 minutes from DXB. If time permits, definitely add an overnight stop to the desert in RAK to your itinerary!
Another top educational place to visit is The Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi. It’s a long way to travel just for their tour (a wonderful two-hour experience), but you could easily combine it with a full-day tour to Abu Dhabi, including the Grand Mosque for an amazing day out.
(We will update recommended providers of great day tours to Abu Dhabi once the domestic border re-opens for tourists)
Alternatively, many desert camp experiences will include falconry as part of their offering on a desert safari. Some desert tours we are aware of that also offer a falconry display as part of their heritage offering include:
Outdoor sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE
The best way to experience wildlife in Dubai is, of course, to get out into the wild. You don’t have to travel as far as you may think though for wildlife experiences in Dubai.
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
This protected desert area to the south of Dubai covers an expanse of 225-square kilometres – about 5% of the Emirate. Only a limited number of licensed tour and hospitality operators can operate within this protected area of the desert. This includes popular premium Dubai tour company Platinum Heritage and ultra-luxurious glamping option Al Maha – A Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa.
- A popular tour for animal-lovers operated by Platinum Heritage is the overnight safari followed by hot air balloon experience. Tours take place in vintage Land Rovers to give you the best open-air experience with experienced guides. Alternatively, they also run morning only heritage tours.
One thing to note about “Desert Safaris” in Dubai; most are not animal-focused safaris. You will find the emphasis is on the popular sport of dune bashing in 4WD’s and a variety of sand sports.
If these do not interest you so much, be very careful what is set out on the agenda as it may only involve a cursory stop at a camel farm or a short animal photo opp – not quite the experience you may think you signed up for.
Our detailed guide to picking the best desert safari’s coming soon!
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Sitting remarkable close to the city, part of the Dubai Creek estuary, the sanctuary is home to a huge number of migratory birds. Best known for its flamingoes, but up to 180 species either permanently live in the waters or pass through. Not just birds, there are numerous crustaceans, fish and reptiles that reside in this designated nature reserve.
It is free for the public to go and use the hides in Ras Al Khor for bird spotting but you must now book in advance and bring your own binoculars.
Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE
The best places to view wildlife in the setting of safari parks, zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries include:
Dubai Safari Park
After a few false starts, the Dubai Safari Park is now re-opened with a conscious focus the public are assured of putting animal conservation first. Home to more than 2,500 animals with a focus on Arabian, Asian and African animal species adapt to the hot climates of the desert. Hands-on experiences are on offer and a children’s interactive program.
The Green Planet
A tropical rainforest eco dome found adjacent to City Walk, The Green Planet brings an equatorial rainforest into the heart of the city. Spread out over four layers of the forest, the dome is dominated by a self-sustaining artificial tree. As you descend through the rainforest meet birds, snakes, insects and the beloved sloth in this incredible educational experience.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Found inside the very middle of Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is one of the city’s most spectacular indoor attractions. The giant suspended tank can be viewed from outside for free, or venture inside for the tunnel, boat ride and many more hands-on experiences and marine encounters.
- You can advance purchase your Dubai Aquarium tickets here – or even better value if you combine them with a Burj Khalifa “At The Top” ticket
The Lost Chamber Aquarium
An equally impressive marine display can be found at the Lost Chambers, part of the extensive complex at Atlantis, The Palm. Visitors staying at the hotel will have free access to the aquarium, or there are several cafes and restaurants with great views for drop-in visitors, even a romantic dining option and an underground suite!
- Advance purchase your Lost Chamber aquarium ticket here or you can also combine the Lost Chambers with a visit to Aquaventure water park
Turtle rehabilitation sanctuary
This one can be a bit of a hidden gem as it’s not widely advertised. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project sits within Jumeirah Al Naseem Hotel in the Madinat Jumeirah Complex. Every Wednesday at 11:00 AM (usually only in the winter months) they run a feeding program for the turtles that are rehabilitating at the sanctuary.
Other times of the week you are free to wander to the hotel lagoon and see these majestic endangered creatures float by. Only injured animals are kept here, it’s not a captive breeding program so there’s no guarantee on how many turtles will be there.
Dubai Butterfly Garden
Situated south of the city in an area known as Dubailand is the Dubai Butterfly Garden -the world’s largest covered butterfly garden home to over 15,000 inhabitants. It’s found adjacent to Dubai Miracle Garden, so most commonly visitors pair these two activities together (though note they have separate entrance fees).
Best animal experiences beyond Dubai
If you have time to see some more of the country some top spots we’d recommend you make time to see;
Al Ain Zoo
Sitting just over the border into neighbouring Emirate Abu Dhabi, about a 90-minute drive from Dubai you’ll find the Al Ain Zoo & Safari.
The majority of animals here are in keeping with the desert theme and in large enclosures. An open-top safari can be booked as an add on experience.
Arguably, the zoo is one of the country’s best value attractions and also houses the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre home to one of the most extensive history and geography displays in the country. If time for a side trip to Al Ain can be found in your schedule, this one will not disappoint, especially if you are travelling with kids.
Kalba conservation areas
On the eastern coast of the UAE, you will find the Sharjah exclave of Kalba. It is surrounded by the Emirate of Fujairah, beyond the Hajar Mountains but recently has been connected with a new freeway tunnel making for easy access from Dubai in just over an hour.
Home to several wildlife and conservation projects, here you can experience the Kalba Birds of Prey Centre and the Al Hefaiyah Mountains Conservation Centre. The coastal mangrove area, like much of this exclave town at present, is under development works to improve tourism infrastructure.
There are still plenty of wadi walks and nature experiences to enjoy in this remote corner of the country, bordering with Oman. Watch this space as Kalba continues to strive towards becoming one of the UAE’s most prominent eco-tourism attractions.
Wild dolphins in Musandam
You need to head up into the remote and mountainous Omani enclave of Musandam for this experience. It is well worth the drive and border crossing experience for one of the most incredible nature experiences of a lifetime. From the regional capital of Khasab, take a small boat out to the waters of Kumzar, almost at the Strait of Hormuz and wild dolphins are almost guaranteed to pop along and join your journey.
Despite the remoteness and vast desert-scape of the UAE, there’s still a huge range of animal-related activities to enjoy in Dubai.
We won’t go so far as to say all of them will be to everyone’s taste. There are some attractions we as a family simply will not go to for ethical reasons and have not mentioned here. We have tried to provide as much information as possible so you can research these topics for yourself and choose the right experiences for you.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Go City Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
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