By Tiffany Law, ’14
What is it like to work with some of the world’s rarest birds? I wouldn’t know. I was an intern on the mammal team! I spent two months this spring in Qatar in the middle of nowhere near the town of Al Shahaniyah. How middle of nowhere? When I told my Doha friends I work near Al Shahaniyah they didn’t believe me. Why did I spend two months stranded without a vehicle an hour outside of Doha? Well, because I’m a zoologist and passionate about saving the world’s endangered species, even if they aren’t iconic ones like tigers and rhinos.
Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation is the outcome of Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al Thani’s love for the rare and exotic. He has transformed his father’s hobby farm into a renowned breeding center. Currently the center has the largest population of one of the world’s rarest birds: the Spix macaw. I’m sure you have heard of this bird, but under a different name. Maybe Blu from the movie Rio will jog your memory. Yes the rare, blue parrot in the movie has a real life inspiration! Unfortunately, the sequel which comes out soon is misleading. There is no secret colony of these birds in the wild. The Spix macaw is extinct in the wild in its home of Brazil and there are less than 100 of these beautiful birds left in captivity.
Another resident group at Al Wabra makes up the second largest collection in the world outside of nearby Sharjah in the UAE. The Arabian sand cat is an adorable looking species that I had the joy of working with. Yes, I found an internship that let me work with CATS (Somewhere Torrey Mann is reading this and smiling.)! Along with these desert cats I also had the privilege of working with a wild cat, a caracal and a group of cheetahs from Somalia in the mammal department. It gets better; part of my job was to make them toys. Not the easiest of jobs as ALL cats, big or small, are persnickety creatures. I found a secret weapon in a local market for 8 QAR ($2.20 USD): the most terrible, pungent cologne. The cats just loved it! If you have a housecat who seems bored you can try spraying some cologne or perfume on a toy, but it’s not for every cat.
Besides the mammals, I worked with the animal keepers here, did rounds to check animal health, filmed and reviewed behavioral video footage, managed registrar entries for the collection, helped during veterinarian procedures, researched breeding habitats and techniques and most important of all: updated and gave presentations to school children. Why was the last thing so important? Al Wabra breeding center and others like it exist because the world has a problem: people. Luckily, the solution to the problem is the problem: people. We are driving species extinct, but we are the ones who can help them thrive as well. And the first step to solving any problem is to understand the problem; making education key. So next time you travel take the time to research what animals or plants are threatened in the country you are traveling to and make sure you are careful not to purchase any products that damage them or their habitat. Be mindful in your travels and when given the chance: always educate others!