Animals come first in an Arabian desert sanctuary
Conservationist Ronel Smuts cares for exotic and endangered animals rescued from the black market.
Al Wathba, United Arab Emirates
The parrot met an unfortunate end. "It's a bit embarrassing," said Ronel Smuts, manager of the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center here, suppressing a smile at the curious ways of fate. "Someone left [the parrot's] cage door open, and he got out and flew toward Zulu, the lion.... The parrot became a midmorning snack, and Zulu had a blue feather sticking out of his mouth."
Life can be tough on the edge of a desert emirate where Mr. Smuts oversees a menagerie of exotic and endangered animals rescued from smugglers, airports, bazaars, and palaces. Two African baboons were found in a car in Dubai; a jaguar was shipped in from Kazakhstan.
When they get here, the animals meet a South African divorcee with a tin feeding bowl and an ornery side who jokes – one assumes it's a joke – that she'll throw her crew, eight Arab men in khaki shirts and matching caps, into the crocodile pond if floors aren't swept and cages aren't repaired. Smuts has a soft heart for animals and a tart tongue for most everyone else. "The animals come first here, so I guess I'm not the easiest boss," she said.