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JEDDAH: Lizards, crocodiles and snakes may not be everyone’s idea of cuddly animals, but according to the two partners behind Reptile Land, Saudi Arabia’s first reptile zoo, the creatures in cold blood have bad press.
“They’re not the fearsome monsters that a lot of people seem to think they are,” Kane Tison told Arab News.
Tison, a British national, and Saudi national Faisal Malaikah have channeled their love of animals, especially reptiles, into a business partnership behind Reptile Land.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve done. It was a huge achievement for us to see people looking up to us and complimenting us because of the zoo we built,” Tison said.
Reptile Land was part of Jeddah season and is located in the jungle area of Jeddah. The zoo is divided into two parts: one for animals that cannot survive the brutal heat of the city and must be kept at controlled temperatures, and the other for those that are more suited to the desert climate.
Tison said the zoo was built under a tight deadline and the team had to work day and night to bring it to life.
Now the Kingdom’s first reptile zoo has come out to offer visitors “something new”, he said.
“Our goal is just to educate people and show them that reptiles aren’t the fearsome monsters that a lot of people think they are.”
All zoo animals are accustomed to human interaction and pose no threat to visitors, Tison added.
Visitors entering the site can see various species of lizards, snakes and crocodiles held in separate enclosures which provide the animals with a miniature version of their natural habitat.
Teams are present in each enclosure to answer questions from visitors, researchers are also available to provide additional information.
Among the zoo’s inhabitants is a rare albino crocodile, one of the white and pink species that was hunted almost to extinction before authorities intervened. There are now fewer than 200 surviving albino crocodiles worldwide, conservation experts estimate.
The zoo is also home to large lizards and turtles, which are kept outdoors in natural surroundings, including ponds and edible plants.
The size and specifications of each enclosure have been thoroughly researched and are based on European animal welfare standards.
“When we came up with the concept, we had to explain to people that it was something unique, and it was possible to create beautiful speakers and be creative. It’s not just a snake in the box. It’s a real zoo, where the animals interact and are present in their natural environment,” Tison said.
As Tison showed the Arab News team around the zoo, he kept a close eye on the animals, at one point asking staff to transport two young turtles to another enclosure because the older animals wouldn’t let them in. to eat.
Staff were also asked to reduce the amount of food offered to a lizard, which was showing early signs of obesity.
“For every species we work with, there’s a lot of reading and background information that takes forever, but is absolutely necessary,” Tison said.
“Each animal we have here requires hours of research to learn about the temperature, humidity and environment required for each species.”
The zoo also hopes to protect reptiles unique to Saudi Arabia, such as the Arabian Uromastyx, or spiny-tailed lizard, and desert monitor lizards.