Fun with a purpose

Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2016   English | العربية  

Rashed Al Qemzi, worked as a diplomat in London – up until 2009 when he came back to the Garden City to surround himself with animals and do what he loves doing most. OL headed down to Al Ain Zoo to fnd out more…

Rashed Al Qemzi, the Curator of Carnivores and Primates at Al Ain Zoo, spent his early career years as a diplomat in London, working in the administrative offce of the UAE Embassy. But it was his love for animals which brought him back to the Garden City in 2009, to fulfl his dream job of working at the Zoo.

“I’ve loved animals since I was a child! It was my dream to care for and understand them. The interest was always there, but perhaps I just didn’t fnd myself until 2009,” Rashed, who was born and raised in Al Ain, explained.

“That was when I woke up one day and thought, ‘This (diplomatic life) isn’t for me.’ I felt the hustle and bustle, the fancy cars, the formal dinners, always being surrounded by people, was not what I really wanted. I felt I could offer more working with wildlife,” he declared.

And so, after a short period with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his complete career change came about. He left one world behind and joined another to pursue his passion and devote his life to the animal kingdom.

This father of four has now been the Curator of Carnivores and Primates at the Zoo for the past three years. “When I announced my career decision, everyone was at frst a bit surprised, but my brothers, wife and children – who love coming to the Zoo - have now become my biggest pillars of support.

“One of the reasons behind my decision to take a different career path, apart from my love for animals, was the challenge this job presented. I’m someone who is constantly looking to be challenged, to be put out of my comfort zone,” Rashed admitted.

“However, the biggest drive is that I want to work towards raising awareness of animal welfare. The culture over here promotes a kind of ignorance towards animal care, and a lot of the people mistakenly assume that leaving an animal in a cage and feeding it frequently is all that’s needed in taking care of it.

“It’s not. So I am here to change people’s attitude on this issue, and show them that we humans must respect other species as well!” he added, passionately.

When he frst decided to change career, he realised that fnding an appropriate animal-related course - Zoology or Zoo

Management for instance – in the UAE was not available and so he looked elsewhere. He came across an opportunity in Jersey in the UK’s Channel Islands, and graduated with a diploma in Endangered Species Management through the University of Kent. Rashed recalled that when he frst joined Al Ain Zoo, there weren’t many Nationals working there. But that situation has since completely changed and there’s been an influx of Emirati employees and volunteers, due to a growing awareness of conservation and caring for wildlife. .

“I also think that the Zoo’s new Safari Park has grabbed people’s attention – and in that way, people are able to get a taste of what it’s like to work with animals,” he explained. .

Although Rashed wanted to be directly interacting with animals, the only Zoo position available when he joined was in Facility Management. .

“It was explained to me that, initially, the only option where I could be completely surrounded by animals was the foodcontroller position. That entailed determining the appropriate diet required for all the animals. It was very challenging at frst, but a good start, because I became more aware and knowledgeable in general of all the animal species.” Before long, Rashed began training the carnivores and primates for two hours almost every day and was then promoted to a zoo-keeper. “In order to curate and supervise animals, you have to be specialised in zookeeping – you can’t just claim to be an animal care supervisor if you don’t know how to clean and feed them,” he explained. He enjoyed caring for the carnivores so much that it drove him to strengthening his expertise in supervising them. And so, after two years, he became the Supervisor of the Mixed-Species exhibit, staying in that position for 18 months before becoming Curator of Carnivores and Primates. .

Rashed and the Zoo’s team manage breeding programmes for saving endangered species and several others dedicated to research, education and training – and thus, today, the facility is as much a conservation centre as it is an educational Zoo. .

Rashed continuously aims to mirror natural environment in that of the Zoo’s surroundings for the animals. “For example, I modelled the Arabian sand cats’ exhibit in its entirety – using native elements – with my own hands, and it’ll be opened for the public come Eid,” he explained.

He gives talks through the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre and organises special programmes for children to teach them how to take care of animals and the importance of biodiversity. .

Rashed also encourages people to treat animals with patience and respect. “There again,” he explained, “The best thing to do is to just leave them where they belong – in their natural habitat. .

“There are people out there who want to adopt a lion cub for example, thinking they are ‘adorable, cuddly pets’. Six months later though, the now much older and bigger cub is neglected, due to ignorance and irresponsibility and because it’s gone beyond the ‘cute’ stage. .

“At worst, the animals end up being caged or at best, are brought to the Zoo to be cared for here. However and sadly, after being attached to the environment it grew up in, the animal can’t always cope well with change,” he said. .

“Once the baby charm fades away, these guys need a lot of care and training, attention to diet and medical treatment. In addition to this, and most importantly, they need their space and freedom,” Rashed further explained, thus underscoring the fact that, for their welfare and mental state, wild animals should not be brought up in a domestic environment. .

Through the University of Sharjah, Rashed is currently studying for an online diploma in Zoos and Aquariums Management from England. Simultaneously, he continues to expand his independent research on animals, looking at their behaviour and history, in order to improve and introduce new techniques at the Zoo.

“I have a very rewarding job, although it involves a great deal of effort. But, not a moment passes where I feel bored or stressed. It’s fun – with a purpose!” Rashed concluded
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