UAE zoo protecting East African bongo

Image Credit: UAE Interact / UAE National Media Council

A new plan has been developed at Sharjah’s Al Bustan Zoological Centre to save an East African antelope species.

The bongo, as it’s known, is nearly extinct and international conservationists fear time is rapidly running out to save it.

That’s why it is so important that researchers in the UAE has taken the lead in this fight.

Al Bustan houses seven of only 700 mountain bongo held in captivity world-wide and fewer than 50 bongos exist in the wild in their native Kenya which puts them firmly into the critically endangered category.

Of the zoo’s vet nurses, Kate Burns, says every individual counts.

“There are only 47 left in the wild so yes, breeding, we need to maintain the genetic diversity of the species and that means swapping – swapping animals, swapping experience,” says Burns.

The Sharjah park has held a two-day workshop to establish a captive breeding programme to increase the population of the dying breed.

Conservationists from the US, Europe, and Africa took part in discussions to form a solid plan of action.

“It was a very exciting workshop, definitely,” says Burns. “Al Bustan is going to be creating a website for the Eastern Bongo so collections in the Middle East will be able to access this website where there will be expert advice, husbandry guidelines, all of that.”

Animal biologist and specialist researcher of endangered species, Doctor Anas Idriss, was one of those invited.

“They were primarily concerned with what the most successful means to preserve this animal are and what efforts are being made ​​at state level and by scientists and environmental and biological experts,” says Dr Idriss.

Al Bustan Zoological Centre is a 17-hectare privately owned zoo that houses 856 animals of from around the world, including those from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Australia. 

Its 101 species  include giraffes, ostriches, zebras and pink flamingos but about 90 per cent of the animal collection is endangered or critically endangered.

Their track record with breeding these endangered species is well-established, with successful programmes for the Dama Gazelle and the Scimitar-horned Oryx.

Ultimately the breeding programme will aim to introduce the captive-bred bongos into their natural wild environment.

“Ideally animals would live in their original environment, says Dr Idriss. “However, if this original environment is threatened by man himself as a result of urban expansion, hunting and climate change then all these reasons make the animal’s natural environment an inappropriate place for it to breed and increase.

Story originally featured in Emirates News, 24 May 2013.

UAE-funded camp offers hope to displaced Syrians in Jordan

Image Credit: UAE Interact / UAE National Media Council

The new Emirati-funded, Mrejib Al Fhood camp is located at Zarqa, 80 kilometres east of the capital, Amman.

The camp has been open less than a month but already, it’s receiving an average of 100 new arrivals every day.

It covers an area of around 250,000 square metres – roughly the size of 35 football fields and includes 770 trailers set up as makeshift homes.

Image credit: Ammon News

The daily operations of the camp are handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in coordination with Emirati and local officials.

The facilities are designed to help the refugees feel at home. The complex also includes a separate boys and girls schools, a mosque, outdoor and indoor markets and integrated health clinics.

The camp will also have a water treatment station, solar-powered heaters, a modern irrigation system and family entertainment zone that will include a children’s playground.

Comfort is the least they can be offered after what most have had to endure.

This woman says the sheer volume of human slaughter is what forced her to leave. They put up with missiles and gunfire but couldn’t remain with the slaughter.

The numbers of those fleeing Syria has surpassed UN estimates, the current figure of 1.25 million, is already ten percent higher than was expected by the end of June. Three quarters of those are women and children.

With more than 3.6 million people internally displaced within Syria and no end in sight to the two-year conflict, there is every chance that the exodus could keep growing.

This story originally appeared in Emirates News, 7 May 2013

Picasso’s Portrait

Image Credit: UAE Interact / National Media Council

A rare unseen work by Pablo Picasso has just gone on display in Abu Dhabi in a new exhibition at the Saadiyat Cultural District.

While still under construction, the Abu Dhabi Louvre, has already begun to curate its collection of artworks. To document this process, it has launched an exhibition called Birth of a Museum.

Among the trove of collected treasure, is the never-before-seen work by the Spanish founder of the Cubism movement.

The work of gouache, ink and collage is named ‘Portrait of a Lady’.

Beneath the veneer of beauty, Picasso has portrayed a troubled soul, says curator Laurence Des Cars.

“Look at the face, a very beautiful face because she was a very beautiful lady, but at the same time burned, a little bit fractured, like a character that has been fractured by history also”, says Des Cars.

“So it’s both elegant, free and at the same time, very deep psychologically.”

It was purchased from a family in Europe who received it as a gift from Picasso himself.

It’s one of 130 paintings and sculptures in the collection, several of which are by other European Masters including Gaugin, Klee, Manet and Magritte.

Birth of A Museum runs until July 20 in preparation for the Louvre’s full opening in 2015.

Saadiyat Cultural District runs regular talks and workshops with experts about its acquisitions.

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 19 April 2013

Peeta Planet

A new genre in digital entertainment is about to hit our screens bridging the divide between broadcast television and social media. It’s Emirati creators, call it social television, and through it, they will introduce you to people all around the world.

You might know Peyman and Mohamed Al Awadhi as the force behind the Wild Peeta restaurant chain but soon they’ll be household names as the roving restaurateurs behind Planet Peeta.

Their social television concept came up back in 2009, when they were looking to take a well-earned break from their busy lives and started asking for travel tips online.

“What social media has done over the past few years is its connected us with people across the world, locals,” says Mohamed Al Awadhi, “so when we do travel to those cities we connect with those locals and they show us their cities through their eyes. We eat at the places they eat at.”

His brother explains that from that search, their concept of travelling the “ultra-local” way grew.

“Mohamed and I are very much of the type, we love the ultra-local experiences, when we travel, we rarely go to the places you’d find on the sites like TripAdvisor and things like that,” says Peyman Al Awadhi.

“We rarely do the things that are known. We always do the take the roads less travelled as we always say. We felt like that is when you actually see a city and understand the soul of a city. We wanted to share that experience and we call it social travel.”

Naturally, that form of travel relies heavily on access to the right type of technology, explains Maha Abouelenein, Google’s regional head of communications.

“Google acted as a digital concierge so helping them figure out where to go when they were looking for information, to help them navigate through Maps, using Google Translate in countries where they didn’t speak the language.”

Technology may have helped them tackle the tyranny of distance, but they also had to learn how to cross the cultural divide.

It always started a little bit awkward because somebody dressed like this in a foreign country comes across a little bit intimidating and the guest was always wary of what shouldn’t I say and will I offend these people and what happened was with everyone as soon as we started talking, what we looked like and what passports we held just melted away and it was just two people with similar ideas.

Coming from an Emirati upbringing also brought some very distinct advantages.

“We talk about crowdsourcing alot and that’s something that we as Emiratis, we’re very good at doing I mean our leaders consistently do that with everything that they do, they run the cities and the country that way,” says Mohammed, “and now we’re doing that on a very small scale on a tv show and I tell you what this is the future of TV.”

Peyman says their goals is to tempt us away from package tours and “sanitised” travel that leaves you disconnected from your surroundings.

“You travel to the same cities, you visit the same monuments,” says Peyman, “you probably will not eat local food, you’ll probably eat at a fast food franchise and the only locals that you will meet will work in hospitality industry.”

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 14 April 2013

UAE camel milk goes global

For thousands of years in this region, camel’s milk has been regarded as almost an elixir of life, its health-giving properties known far and wide. One Dubai camel farm now thinks its time to spread the message even further and has plans for global expansion, as Noni Edwards reports.

The camel is a humble animal, but humans have been relying on these trusty “ships of the desert” – for survival, for as long as history has been recorded.

But now they’re serving a very different function, as the key component in one of the most recent types of food manufacturing operation to be developed.

The Camelicious dairy on the outskirts of Dubai, is the first dedicated and regulated camel milk factory to be built in the world.

There are around three thousand camels but to support their ambitious export plans, they’re going to double the size of the farm.

The farm’s manager, Dr Peter Nagy, says there is good reason for the rest of the world to know about camel milk.

“It could help in treating TB, tuberculosis, patients. Also there’s data showing that it can have antiviral effects against certain viruses.”

Even for everyday consumption he says it’s easier to drink than other milk. It has a different protein structure so people who are allergic to dairy from cows, sheep or goats can digest camel milk.

The benefits continue: he says the vitamin content is higher and all importantly, the natural fat content is lower.

In cafes around Dubai that have been testing out the camel milk retail concept, this group of Saudi women is rediscovering what their families have known for centuries.

Taghreed Turki, from Medina, said she doesn’t know why it’s fallen out of fashion.

“It was drunk by my grandfather and my ancestors and was the best drink for them but now it’s not very popular,” she said. “It’s healthy and is said to be a deterrent against cancer.”

Responses from all nationalities have been positive.

Judy Havard, from Adelaide in Australia was taken by complete surprise when asked about the taste.

“Beautiful, actually it’s a lovely cup of coffee and I didn’t even realise that it was camel milk,” she said.

Derek Turner, from Leicester in the UK said he thought it was interesting. “I thought it was sweet but not overpowering, refreshing and different in a nice way.

Roddy Fok-Shan, general manager of the Majlis al Nasseem Coffee Shops says his Asian customers are lapping it up.

“The Japanese and Chinese market, the Asian market has a big craze for the camel milk,” he explains. “One of our major customers for the camel milk chocolate is really the Asian market.”

Camel milk exports to Europe will begin later this month, after EU approval was granted in February, and after that? The sky’s the limit.

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 2 April 2013

Hey Qantas, welcome to Dubai!

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 1 April 2013

eq2The first scheduled Qantas flight into Dubai touched down this morning – heralding the start of the Australian carrier’s powerful new alliance with Emirates Airline. Noni Edwards has the details.

Yesterday, to mark the launch of the alliance, two A380s flew in formation over Sydney – Emirates and Qantas, working in perfect partnership. No doubt that’s the symbolism they’re hoping will stick.

At today’s launch event at Emirates headquarters here in Dubai, the Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said that first flight into Dubai was no less than history in the making.

“It did represent a change in global aviation and the thing about coming on that flight last night and talking to a lot of our passengers on board is our passengers were extremely excited about this partnership.”

The code-sharing, profit-sharing, market-sharing partnership will see Qantas and Emirates offer a combined total of 98 flights a week between Australia and Dubai, but getting it literally off the ground hasn’t come quickly or easily.

eq3The President of Emirates, Tim Clark, says they were supported at every step by the Australian government.

“I must first of all express my appreciation of the presence of the Minister for Transport Infrastructure and Regional Development for Australia who has been a huge supporter for everything we’ve managed to accomplish in this last 9 or 10 months.”

Of course the Minister would realise Australia has a lot to gain from the partnership, especially with enticing images like yesterday’s double flyover in Sydney being beamed out around the world, but he’s also thinking about expat Aussies, like the 7,000 odd-of-us estimated to be living in the UAE.

eqAustralia’s Minister for Infrastructure and Transport , arrived in Dubai on the flight.

“Australians are of course amongst the most travelled people on the globe,” said Anthony Albanese.

“What this partnership does is open up new markets directly for all those Australians who travel as expats back to their country of origin or people who are travelling either for business or recreational purposes.”

“A lot of our passengers were talking about how this improves their connectivity into Rome,” said Joyce. “We had people going all over Europe, to Milan, to Rome”

Also present at today’s event, the Australian Ambassador to the UAE, Pablo Kang.