UAE Native Species & Where to Have Animal Encounters in Dubai


What animals are native to Dubai and what animal-based experiences are on offer?

Curious as to what animals can survive and thrive in the extreme desert conditions of Dubai? You may be surprised by just how many native species you’ll find in Dubai – from the Persian Gulf waters to the desert and mountainous regions of the United Arab Emirates.

In this guide, we’ll take you through

Dubai Native Animals

There’s a huge range of native species that can be found in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. You may be lucky to come across some of these mammals in the Dubai desert environment and mountains (yes, the UAE has mountains!):

  • Arabian Oryx (vulnerable)
  • Arabian Tahr (endangered)
  • The Arabian Leopard (critically endangered)
  • Arabian Sand Gazelle (threatened)
  • Mountain Gazelle
  • Striped Hyena (near-threatened)
  • Sand Cat
  • Arabian Wolf

Native to the waters of Dubai, in addition to over 500 species of fish, you will find:

  • Hawksbill turtles (critically endangered)
  • Green Turtles (endangered)
  • Humpback dolphins
  • Sea snakes
  • Dugongs
  • Whale sharks

This is in addition to a huge number of migratory birds, bats, reptiles and insects.

If you need more online information on Dubai native animals, you can try the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. Emirates Nature WWF is another good resource.

Where to Experience Camels in Dubai

Camels are most likely the animal that first comes to mind when imagining a trip to Dubai. A domesticated rather than wild animal, these “Ships of the Desert” are much-revered creatures in the UAE; Emiratis are proud and passionate about their camels, which were introduced into the Arabian Peninsula over 2000 years ago.

An important part of traditional Bedouin life, camels have historically not only been a source of food for their milk and meat but also a form of transportation; their hair can be woven for shelter, and they are a form of currency and status. Camels found in the Arabian Peninsula are dromedaries – single-humped camels.

The easiest and most practical way to see a camel in Dubai and even opt into camel rides is to take a desert safari during your stay in Dubai (we’ll explain more below). Alternatively, you could also look to:

  • Attend a camel race at Al Marmoom camel race track – wake early to catch the trackside action with robotic jockeys, and a lot of sound colour and 4×4’s too!
  • Visit the Camel Farm and engage in some camel hug therapy! Longer treks and other hands-on experiences are available at this dedicated camel experience location, just outside of the city.
  • Take a camel ride along the beach at JBR – yes, it’s touristy, but if time is limited, this is your best chance to catch a camel ride close to town.

You can see our complete guide on where to ride a camel in Dubai here

Dubai Camel on JBR The Beach
Tourist camel rides on JBR aren’t cheap but easy to access if you can’t make it into the desert

Where to Experience Falconry in Dubai

If there’s one animal possibly even more revered than the camel in Dubai, it’s the falcon. Falconry was a vital part of Bedouin life, and the culture lives on with falconry still being seen as a much sought-after skill, even with the younger generation.

There are a few ways to have a falcon encounter near Dubai. Close to the city, look up the event program with Wild Flight Dubai, a company that actively does pest control using falcons; they also provide tourist demonstrations and cater to corporate groups.

Wild Flight can also regularly be seen in the heritage experiences program at The Ritz-Carlton, Ras Al Khaimah Al Wadi Desert. You will catch camel rides and a huge range of wildlife experiences while staying in this incredible corner of the desert. Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is only around 40 minutes from DXB. If time permits, definitely add an overnight stop to the desert in RAK to your itinerary!

It looks like another regular destination where you’ll find their demonstrations is at JA The Resort, so look them up if you’re looking for a unique resort experience in Dubai near the beach.

Another top educational place to visit is The Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi. It’s a long way to travel just for their tour (a wonderful two-hour experience), but you could easily combine it with a full-day tour to Abu Dhabi, including the Grand Mosque, for an amazing day out.

Alternatively, many desert camp experiences will include falconry as part of their offering on a desert safari. Some desert tours we are aware of that also offer a falconry display as part of their heritage offering include:

Outdoor Sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE

The best way to experience wildlife in Dubai is, of course, to get out into the “wild”. You don’t have to travel as far as you may think, though, for wildlife experiences in Dubai.

Here are three of the key locations we recommend you seek out in Dubai for true wildlife spotting experiences:

1. Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

This protected desert area to the south of Dubai covers an expanse of 225 square kilometres – about 5% of the Emirate. Only a limited number of licensed tour and hospitality operators can operate within this national park of sand dunes and gravel plains managed by Emirates.

This includes popular premium Dubai tour company Platinum Heritage, newcomers 57 Safari, and ultra-luxurious glamping options, including Sonara Camp and Al Maha – A Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa.

Within DDCR, you can spot mammals such as the Arabian Oryx, Arabian Gazelle and Arabian Red Fox. You will also see several species of geckos and sand lizards, sand snakes and the much larger Desert Monitor and Lappet-faced Vulture.

The DDCR also has an excellent visitor centre where you can learn much more about the UAE’s native flora and fauna. You can pop into the visitor centre (accessible by taxi or any 2WD vehicle) from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily.

Interactive displays in the DDCR visitor centre dubai desert education

One thing to note about “Desert Safaris” in Dubai; most are not animal-focused safaris at all. You will find the emphasis is on the popular sport of dune bashing in 4WDs and a variety of sand sports, with possibly a camel ride thrown in.

So, nature lovers, pay attention when booking. Read the fine print, do they say you’ll be visiting the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve or DDCR in the tour description? If not, there’s a fair chance your animal experience in Dubai will only be cursory.

To help you narrow down some more nature-focused experiences through booking platforms, these tours will give you the best chances of seeing native animals in Dubai:

  • This is a popular overnight tour for animal lovers, operated by Platinum Heritage and Balloon Adventure Emirates; With pick-ups from the city, the tours take place in vintage Land Rovers to give you the best open-air experience with experienced guides. You will stay in a traditional Bedouin stone hut and wake for a sunrise tour over the DDCR.
  • Alternatively, they also run morning-only heritage tours with transfers from Dubai and a falconry display.
  • Another excellent option to be at one with your surroundings and enjoy a nighttime nature walk is with Sand Sherpa. You will get to camp in rooftop tents, all your camping gear is provided, and assistance given throughout, or if you’re more experienced campers, you can simply hire the gear from them.
  • 57 Safari also operate in a separate part of DDCR with a small fleet of vintage Land Rovers. Their morning program, Breakfast with Oryx, is a popular choice, with a falconry display included.

We have a more detailed guide to all the tours you can enjoy at DDCR over here.

2. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Sitting remarkably close to the city, part of the Dubai Creek estuary, the sanctuary is home to a huge number of migratory birds. Best known for its flamingoes, but up to 180 species either permanently live in the waters or pass through. Not just birds, there are numerous crustaceans, fish and reptiles that reside in this designated nature reserve.

Flamingoes at ras al khor

It is free for the public to go and use the hides in Ras Al Khor for bird spotting but you must now book in advance and bring your own binoculars.

3. Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve

Another large, unfenced reserve within Dubai Emirate is the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve. Covering over 10% of Dubai Emirate, this area incorporates the Al Qudra Lake system, which includes the utterly instagrammable “Love Lakes.” Whilst on the surface, it may seem gimmicky, the lakes are, in fact, an incredibly important part of the Emirate’s conservation effort.

Although the lakes themselves are man-made, they are now home to over 170 species of migratory birds and reptiles.

al qudra lakes in al marmoom conservation reserve dubai view from above the lakes and the expansive desert around

It’s possible to camp for free at Al Qudra Lakes, though be warned, due to the ease of accessibility to these campgrounds, they can be rather noisy and busy, especially at winter weekends. Most other times, though, you should be able to park up at the lakes and enjoy a serene experience surrounded by nature.

If you don’t have your own camping gear, we’ve found these tours that operate in Al Marmoon Desert Conservation Reserve:

Zoos and Wildlife Sanctuaries in Dubai & the UAE

The best places to view Dubai wildlife in the setting of safari parks, zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries include:

Dubai Safari Park

After a few false starts, the Dubai Safari Park is now re-opened with a conscious focus the public are assured of putting animal conservation first. Home to more than 2,500 animals with a focus on Arabian, Asian and African animal species that adapt to the hot climates of the desert. Hands-on experiences are offered in the form of a children’s interactive program, safari ride and feeding sessions.

The Green Planet

A tropical rainforest eco dome found adjacent to City Walk, The Green Planet brings an equatorial rainforest into the heart of the city. Spread out over four layers of the forest, the dome is dominated by a self-sustaining artificial tree. As you descend through the rainforest, meet birds, snakes, insects and the beloved sloth in this incredible educational experience.

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo

Found inside the very middle of Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is one of the city’s most spectacular indoor attractions. The giant suspended tank can be viewed from outside for free, or venture inside for the tunnel, boat ride and many more hands-on experiences and marine encounters.

shark in the Dubai Aquarium Dubai Mall

The Lost Chambers Aquarium

An equally impressive marine display can be found at the Lost Chambers, part of the extensive complex at Atlantis, The Palm. Visitors staying at the hotel will have free access to the aquarium, or there are several cafes and restaurants with great views for drop-in visitors, even a romantic dining option and an underground suite!

Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project

This one can be a bit of a hidden gem as it’s not widely advertised. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project sits within the Jumeirah Al Naseem Hotel in the Madinat Jumeirah Complex. Every Wednesday at 11:00 AM (usually only in the winter months) they run a feeding program for the turtles that are rehabilitating at the sanctuary.

At other times of the week, you are free to wander to the hotel lagoon and see these majestic endangered creatures float by. Only injured animals are kept here, it’s not a captive breeding program so there’s no guarantee on how many turtles will be there.

Dubai Butterfly Garden

Situated south of the city in an area known as Dubailand is the Dubai Butterfly Garden -the world’s largest covered butterfly garden home to over 15,000 inhabitants. It’s found adjacent to Dubai Miracle Garden, so most commonly visitors pair these two activities together (though note they have separate entrance fees).

Best Animal Experiences Beyond Dubai

If you have time to see some more of the country some top spots we’d recommend you make time to see;

Al Ain Zoo & Safari

Sitting just over the border into neighbouring Emirate Abu Dhabi, about a 90-minute drive from Dubai, you’ll find the Al Ain Zoo & Safari.

The majority of animals here are kept to the desert theme and in large enclosures. An open-top safari can be booked as an add-on experience.

Arguably, the zoo is one of the country’s best value attractions and also houses the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre home to one of the most extensive history and geography displays in the country. If time for a side trip to Al Ain can be found in your schedule, this one will not disappoint, especially if you are travelling with kids.

Jubail Mangrove Park and Eastern Mangroves

Also in Abu Dhabi emirate, you’ll find these two wetland reserves close to the city. Each would make an excellent addition to any Abu Dhabi day tour or city break adventure in the capital. Both Jubail Mangrove Park and the Mangrove National Park, found at Eastern Mangroves, can be accessed by watercraft such as kayaks and e-boats.

Jubail Mangrove Park in Abu Dhabi has a long wooden boardwalk for observing Marine life
Boardwalk over the mangroves in Jubail Mangrove Park

The advantage of visiting Jubail Mangrove Park is the extensive wooden boardwalk that extends over the mangroves, allowing visitors an up-close interaction with the marine life beneath. Signage throughout helps visitors understand the importance of the mangrove ecosystem.

Kalba conservation areas

On the eastern coast of the UAE, you will find the Sharjah exclave of Kalba. It is surrounded by the Emirate of Fujairah, beyond the Hajar Mountains, but recently has been connected with a new freeway tunnel, making for easy access from Dubai in just over an hour.

Home to several wildlife and conservation projects, here you can experience the Kalba Birds of Prey Centre and the Al Hefaiyah Mountains Conservation Centre. The coastal mangrove area, like much of this exclave town at present, is under development works to improve tourism infrastructure.

There are still plenty of wadi walks and nature experiences to enjoy in this remote corner of the country, bordering with Oman. Watch this space as Kalba continues to strive towards becoming one of the UAE’s most prominent eco-tourism attractions.

Wild Dolphins in Musandam

You need to head up into the remote and mountainous Omani enclave of Musandam for this experience. It is well worth the drive and border crossing experience for one of the most incredible nature experiences of a lifetime.

From the regional capital of Khasab, take a small boat out to the waters of Kumzar, almost at the Strait of Hormuz and wild dolphins are almost guaranteed to pop along and join your journey.

An unforgettable nature experience in the khors of Musandam, Oman on a day trip from Dubai

We’d strongly suggest if you’re an animal lover, avoid experiences such as the Dubai Dolphinarium and Atlas Village at Atlantis.

Despite the remoteness and vast desert-scape of the UAE, there’s still a huge range of animal-related activities to enjoy in Dubai.

We won’t go so far as to say all of them will be to everyone’s taste. There are some attractions we as a family simply will not go to for ethical reasons and have not mentioned here. We have tried to provide as much information as possible so you can research these topics for yourself and choose the right experiences for you.

Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai

Take me back to the Dubai Attractions home page

Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.

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