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 cold-blooded creatures get a bad rap.
“They are 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 channeled their love of animals, especially reptiles, into a business partnership behind Reptile Land.
“I am just so proud of what we have done. It was a huge achievement for us to see people admiring and complimenting us because of the zoo we built,” Tison said.
Reptile Land was part of the Jeddah Season and is located in the Jeddah Jungle zone. The zoo is divided into two parts: One for animals that cannot survive the city’s brutal heat and need to be kept in controlled temperatures, and the other for those more suited to the desert climate.
Tison said that the zoo was built to a tight deadline, and the team had to work day and night to make it come to life.
Now the Kingdom’s first reptile zoo is out to offer visitors “something new,” he said.
“Our goal is just to educate people and show them that reptiles are not the fearsome monsters that a lot of people think they are.”
All animals in the zoo are used 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 that offer the animals a miniature version of their natural habitat.
Teams are present at each enclosure to answer visitors’ queries, with researchers also available to offer further information.
Among the zoo’s inhabitants is a rare albino crocodile, one of a white-and-pink species that was hunted almost to the point of extinction before authorities intervened. There are now fewer than 200 albino crocodiles surviving around the world, conservation experts believe.
The zoo is also home to big lizards and tortoises, 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 is something unique, and you can create beautiful enclosures and be creative. It isn’t just a snake in the box. It is a proper zoo, where animals are interacting and are present in their natural environment,” Tison said.
As Tison gave the Arab News team a tour of the zoo, he kept a close eye on the animals, at one point instructing staff carry two young tortoises to another enclosure because older animals were not allowing them to eat.
Staff were also told to reduce the amount of food offered to one lizard, which was showing early signs of obesity.
“For each species that we work with, there is a lot of reading and background information that takes forever, but is absolutely necessary,” Tison said.
“Every single animal that we have here requires hours of research to learn about the temperature, humidity and environment that is required for each species.”
The zoo is also hoping to protect reptiles that are unique to Saudi Arabia, such as the Arabian Uromastyx, or spiny-tailed lizard, and desert monitor lizards.