Animal Welfare in Dubai

December 13th 2019
Written by: Susan
Camel Experience Dubai

Experiencing animals when on holidays in Dubai or anywhere in the world can be a rewarding experience. It is good to be aware of the welfare of the animals and to find out how they are treated. I’m sure no one wants to think of animals suffering for our entertainment as tourists. People often express concerns about some of the most popular activities in Dubai and how the animals are treated. Animal welfare is something we are passionate about so we chatted to animal professionals and conducted some online and on the ground research in Dubai. We wanted to find out if riding camels is ethical, if falcons are looked after properly and we wanted to know more about some of the captive animals in Dubai. Let’s take a look at some of our findings to help you make informed decisions and responsible choices on your trip to Dubai.

Is Camel Riding in Dubai Ethical?

One of the most popular activities involving animals in Dubai is riding a camel. Since a lot of attention has been raised recently about the cruelty of riding animals such as elephants, travellers to Dubai may assume that training and riding camels is also cruel, but this is not the case. Unlike elephants and to a lesser extent horses, you don’t need to use unethical practices to break their spirits in order to ride them. Camels are quite easy to domesticate but can only be won over with kindness. A camel will only do what it is trained to do only if it wants to. They form very close bonds with their handlers and this is the reason they will allow people to ride them. They are also often very loved by their handlers and looked after, so happier than foraging in the wild.

How much can a camel carry?

Taking the weight of 1-2 humans is quite easy for a camel as large camels can carry 300-400kg (600-800lbs) quite easily. This doesn’t mean to say they should do it all the time, so do watch out for places in Dubai that try to overload their camels. Up to 180kg for multiple trips a day is a nicer limit for them. Camels are also purpose built for the desert and are often referred to as the ‘ships of the desert’. They have very wide hooves that makes walking over sand very easy for them. Getting up and down with reasonable loads is also fine, if they are given adequate rest and only worked for small periods each day with days off, just like us!

Where to ride camels ethically?

If you choose to ride a camel, the best way to see how well they are being treated is to simply look how happy they are. If they are refusing to get up and down, have scars where their saddles are rubbing, or are generally aggressive, you could assume that they do not live in optimal conditions.

If you do want to ethically ride a camel in Dubai we would recommend Platinum Heritage as they really do look after their camels. They have an article for further information here: Treatment of Camels on Dubai Desert Safaris. Their camels eat very well, are not tethered at night and have ‘rosters’, only working the same hours as their handlers with days off each week. Another experience that looks after their animals is the Al Marmoom Bedouin Experience.

Is falconry in Dubai ethical?

Some people assume that the falcons in falcon shows in Dubai are wild falcons that have been captured. Almost all falcons in Dubai are bred in captivity and have optimal conditions and are very well looked after by the falconers that train them.

Falcons are very important animals in Dubai as in the past falconry was crucial for survival in the desert and the Bedouins would use them for hunting to be able to get their meat. They would trap the falcon at the beginning of the winter season, train them and then release them before summer hit and it was too hot for them. The falcons would then continue on their normal migratory paths without harm.

Falcon shows to lures

Falconry was turned into a sport and was practiced by nobility and royalty in the region. Hunting with falcons is no longer legal but many still practice the art of falconry by having the bird fly to a lure. Very rarely you may witness the horrific act of a live dove on the lure as this is how they would train them to hunt. Make sure this is not what you are going to watch as it is very disturbing. Most shows will use ethically sourced French quail and the birds eat very well. They are normally only flown once a day and the behaviour mimics that of their natural environment. The falcons when flying to the lure actually think they are ‘hunting’ and don’t realise that it is not real prey that they are swooping. Being exercised daily in this fashion is very beneficial to the bird.

The falcon’s hood

Another misconception surrounding falcons is that using the hood or ‘burka’ is cruel. The major sense that a falcon relies on is its eyesight which is incredibly sharp to help them spot small prey from far distances. Covering a falcon’s eyes actually calms the birds and this is actually where the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ comes from. As long as the hood isn’t used for excessively long periods of time, the falcons generally do not mind wearing the hood and they are always made to fit the birds comfortably with very little stress to put it on and off.

Selfies with falcons

Many people like to take pictures with falcons. This is fine for very short periods and preferably when wearing the hood (see above). As the eyes are very sensitive having flash photography with the hoods off is not a good practice. Also, the falcons that are mainly used for this purpose are generally not flown and exercised adequately and can often be overweight and unhealthy. We do not recommend encouraging the practice of having your picture taken with falcons that are not flying such as in malls and other tourist attractions.

Where to see falcons ethically

Today falcons are still revered in the culture and used to travel first class with their rich handlers.

Falcons are the national bird of the country and appear on road signs and the currency so learning about these creatures can be very fascinating. Royal Shaheen are the premier falconers in Dubai. Their staff are all qualified falconers and love their falcons that they look after like loved pets, sometimes even best friends. Falcons in their care will live over twice as long as their wild counterparts.  They conduct shows flying to the lure for Platinum Heritage Desert Safaris, but if you really want to see an amazing spectacle with falcons, they have teamed up with Balloon Adventures Dubai to ‘Fly with Falcons’. They conduct a world exclusive falcon show from a hot air balloon over the Dubai desert so you can see them up close in the sky where they belong: Balloons, Falconry and Breakfast

Is captive dolphins in Dubai ethical?

Dolphins are amazingly intelligent and majestic creatures, and many tourists want to experience dolphins as closely as possible. It is often called into attention if it is ethical or not. PETA have a firm stance on the subject to never swim with dolphins , but they often have very extreme views so we dug a little deeper.

There are native dolphins off the coast of Dubai, but more on the east side of the UAE in Fujairah and the Musandam. Wild dolphins sometimes pay tourists a visit and swim along the boats, playing in the wake if you do dhow trips, speed boats or self-drive boats in this region. Unfortunately, this only happens very rarely and a lot more people are looking for a guaranteed encounter so they look to the other two options: Dubai Dolphinarium and Dolphin Bay at Atlantis the Palm.

Is Dolphin Bay, Atlantis the Palm ethical?

There are many, many reports that suggest that dolphins in captivity suffer, especially those caught from the wild which is often the case. 28 wild-caught dolphins were removed from the waters around the Solomon Islands, and transferred to the Palm Atlantis on 17 October 2007 for the Dolphin Bay encounter at Atlantis the Palm. There were reports that a few did not survive the journey.

Although said to be one of the most premium encounters for dolphins, the cages are small and there is no education on conservation of the dolphins. The dolphins perform the regular ‘tricks’ and participants can swim with them on their dorsal fins, kiss them and interact with them in a number of ways.

If you are an animal lover, we would suggest not to participate in such activities as this so we can end the practice of animals suffering in captivity for entertainment purposes. This report from Marine Connection comprehensively goes into the experience.

Dubai Dophinarium ethical review

The Dubai Dolphinarium has again recently been in the spotlight for its unethical treatment of dolphins. This article in the Gulf News depicts a trainer riding on the back of a dolphin when it is on land only a few months ago. As sea creatures they have no ability to take external pressure on land so it has caused a lot of controversy.

As the first airconditioned dolphin park in Dubai, opening in 2008, it is not a stranger to controversy. It is reputed to get their dolphins from the unethical dolphin trade in Taiji, Japan and were wild-caught bottlenose dolphins. (source:  The Dolphin Project) This is a claim that the management refutes.

With research, Dubai Travel Advice does maintain the position that dolphins are better off experienced in the wild and we would like to bring awareness to the fact that these creatures are most likely suffering for our entertainment.

Wild Animals in Dubai

People don’t often realise how many native animals there are in Dubai, but the desert used to be teeming with life. With the introduction of motorised vehicles and the destructive impact of ‘dune bashing’, many animals were lost. Dune bashing kills the natural flora that the animals lived off by tearing it up. Dune bashing also harms the 95% of animals that live underground that get buried in the practice. The Arabian oryx was one such victim with only 8 recorded left in the wild in the 1960s, they were basically extinct. The ruler, Sheikh Zayed set about the conservation of these beautiful creatures and founded a reserve: the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Today this 225km reserve it is a sanctuary for animals including the Arabian oryx as well as gazelles, the Arabian hare and many other smaller animals. Many birds also enjoy this sanctuary as they migrate through the region.

Where to see Dubai’s native wildlife

There is a list of only 4 tourism companies that have been granted access to the reserve. Wildlife drives are conducted on set tracks so as to not impact the natural environment. The animals in it are ‘semi-wild’ as feeding stations and waterholes supplement their normal existence and it is a fenced off area for their own protection. It is a huge area, so it does not impact them negatively and is a good way to enjoy animals in their natural habitat. We recommend Platinum Heritage as going through the desert in vintage Land Rovers is a very unique way to explore it.

We have chosen not to explore the Dubai Zoo, Dubai Aquarium and Dubai Safari Park in this article as there is a lot of information regarding this online. We think that as far as zoos in general go, a responsible traveller can make their own decisions about what is right for them but making informed decisions is the best way to protect animals from needless suffering.