Shopping malls go wild in Dubai with animal attractions

Story highlights

  • The Dubai Mall recently acquired a giant squid and two crocodiles
  • Animals in malls are not uncommon. Ski Dubai now houses a penguin colony
  • The UAE has long exhibited a penchant for exotic animals
  • Many locals even keep wild game as pets

Dubai is home to the tallest building, largest mall and biggest candy shop.

Recently, however, the city proved that its penchant for the extra large isn't limited to the inanimate. Last week, the Dubai Mall became home to a giant pacific octopus -- the largest species of octopus on the planet.

The newest occupant, who lives at the mall's Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, stretches out to a fear-inducing 14 feet, and weighs over 70 kilograms (154 pounds).

Earlier this month, the aquarium announced it had acquired one of the largest known reptiles on the planet, a 1,600-pound crocodile they've dubbed King Croc (they also flew in his companion, Queen Croc).

John Gerner, a theme park consultant and the managing director at Leisure Business Advisors, notes that the mall's current preoccupation with large animals is consistent with the Emirate's obsession with record-breaking pursuits.

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"In a general, entertainment attractions have always been a way for countries to have bragging rights in the world. By having the best, the biggest and the fastest of everything, Dubai wants to show they've arrived on the world stage. In many ways, having record-breaking animals is another way to do that," he says.

The country is no stranger to peppering its entertainment offerings with animals exotic to the region. In 2012, Ski Dubai -- the indoor ski slope housed at Mall of the Emirates -- welcomed a colony of King and Gentoo penguins. In 2008, Atlantis, The Palm hotel courted controversy from animal rights groups when it hosted a whale shark in its in-built aquarium.

"Lately, you're seeing attractions where you wouldn't typically find animals adding them in. It's a merging of concepts. At Atlantis, you have a lodging using an animal attraction as an amenity to justify higher room rates and occupancy," explains Gerner.

It's a concept that doesn't sit well with local animal rights groups.

"In the wild, crocodiles spent hours swimming and can regulate the buoyancy and temperature or their bodies. No enclosure -- no matter how large -- is able to provide crocodiles with everything that is natural and important to them," says Ashley Fruno, the Asia and Middle East senior campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"If the Dubai Mall wants to set itself apart from the rest, there are other ways to do that than imprisoning wild animals in concrete enclosures and taking away everything that is natural and important to them," she adds.

In a statement, Emaar, the developers for The Dubai Mall, note that King Croc and his companion were obtained from a crocodile farm in Australia. They add that the transfer was facilitated in partnership with Australian government authorities, who reviewed the quality of the display, qualifications of the staff caring for the animals and the educational purpose of the exhibit.

Emaar also notes that the habitat made for the two crocodiles is three times the size specified by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The country's fascination with wild animals isn't always limited to the indoors.

Last year the UAE's Ministry of Environment and Water issued bans on the commercial and personal import of a variety of exotic animals -- including many big cats and primates -- yet they remain popular pets for many Emiratis, who see them as a status symbol.

Several locals have shot to Instagram fame showcasing their exotic animal collection.

"Unfortunately, the trade in exotic animals is largely unregulated and statistics are very difficult to come by," says Fruno. "The animals pay the price for this trade. Many don't survive the journey from their homes in the wild, and those that do often die prematurely from malnutrition, an unnatural environment, loneliness and the overwhelming stress of confinement."

Still, she does note that animal rights -- though a newer concept in the UAE -- is on the rise.

"Awareness is growing by the day, and new animal welfare groups are popping up in the region all the time," she says.

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