Otto Bulart Dubai Zoo

Otto Bulart was an Architect from Austria with a love of wild animals, particularly lions. He brought both those interests to Dubai in 1950s where he eventually gave up Architecture and built Dubai Zoo with Sheikh Rashid's help.

Otto Bulart comes to Dubai

Otto Bulart came to Dubai in 1958 as the Agent for Overseas AST, a construction company operating as part of AST in Graz, Austria. Otto was an Architect and Engineer and responsible for carrying out much of the restoration work on Dubai Creek ordered by Sheikh Rashid. Otto was a man of many talents and interests.......

Otto was a man who delighted in "extreme" type of activities. Being an ex-Luftwaffe fighter pilot, he had a glider, which he kept at Dubai Airport. He was also into wild creatures, Underwater Photography being his driving force. I think Otto held the record for the most emergency helicopter flights to Bahrain hospital (fingers cut off by aircraft propeller,bitten by his pet Sand Viper, glider stalled at 200 ft, etc.).

Dubai Resident who knew Otto

After Overseas AST

Otto Bulart and Overseas AST parted company in 1963 with Otto setting himself up as an Architect. He became an Advisor to Sheikh Rashid on construction matters and also oversaw the construction of new schools funded by Kuwait Government Aid. Sheikh Rashid gave Otto the task of redesigning the existing Zabeel Palace and designing a Tower to house a Town Clock given to Sheikh Rashid by his son in law Sheikh Ahmed of Qatar. But Otto's main interests continued to be his animals and his Underwater Photography. Otto had begun a private collection of animals which soon came to the notice of Dubai Municipality's Director Kamal Hamzah. As a consequence Sheikh Rashid offered Otto Bulart a two hectare plot of land on the outer edge of Dubai at the village of Jumeirah to develop a Zoo. Otto accepted and devoted himself to designing and building Dubai Zoo, the first Zoo in the Arabian Peninsular. Otto gave up his Architectural Practice. Dubai Zoo opened in 1967 and was soon home to Otto's collection of large cats, bears, chimpanzees and orangutans as well as a small aquarium. Dubai Zoo was open to Visitors who paid one rupee entrance fee, although that income was hardly sufficient to meet the cost of running the Zoo. That situation continued until 1971.

Moving to Al Ain

In 1971 Otto Bulart was invited by Sheikh Zayed Al Nayhan to take up the Directorship of Al Ain Zoo. Sheikh Zayed established Al Ain Zoo in 1968. Otto moved to Al Ain Zoo and Dubai Municipality took over the responsibility for Dubai Zoo. Otto Bulart remained at Al Ain Zoo until his retirement. Otto Bulart died in 1997 at his home town of Graz in Austria. Otto is credited with saving many Arabian Species from extinction.

Dr Khan went to work at Al Ain Zoo in 1983 and was told about the UAE's early successes with captive breeding by Otto Bulart, who was then its director. Al Ain Zoo had begun its own breeding programme in 1968 when, on Sheikh Zayed's orders, the last four animals left in the wild were rounded up and taken there. Other animals from private collections were used to establish a herd at Sir Bani Yas Island. "In Al Ain Zoo, there was nothing special about it breeding; it breeds like hell once a pair starts to do so," he said. "In the West, zoos and conservation organisation bang their heads to breed it. At the time of my joining there were more than 70 oryx, making it possibly the largest herd in captivity. But it was not known to the world as the international yearbooks published by the Zoological Society of London never mentioned the Arabian oryx in Al Ain Zoo." One factor behind the lack of awareness of the zoo's captive breeding success was Mr Bulart's reluctance to draw attention to it. "He was a great man but a kind of introvert, not keeping up any communication with the world zoo community."

The National UAE quoting Dr Reza Khan, Wildlife and Zoo Specialist at Dubai Municipality

Dubai Zoo Criticised

Lack of space, small cages, a growing number of animals and reptiles meant Dubai Zoo was outdated and so became the target of Animal Rights Groups and Activists bring adverse publicity. Dubai Municipality looked at options to improve Dubai Zoo. None proved acceptable so a new Zoo was planned for Dubailand but the GFC crisis killed that idea. Dubai Municipality is now building a new Safari Park due to open by the end of 2016 when Dubai Zoo will finally close.


A newly arrived Colleague excitedly told me he had rented a house behind Dubai Zoo. "Well" I said " you'll not need an Alarm Clock - the Lions will wake you every morning." He laughed. He thought I was joking! - I wasn't!