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Video: Why Saif Belhasa's private Dubai zoo, home to over 500 animals, is only open to the stars – wknd.

Friday, Mar 04, 2022 | Sha'ban 01, 1443
Published: Thu 3 Mar 2022, 8:09 PM
Last updated: Thu 3 Mar 2022, 10:51 PM
Emirati entrepreneur Saif Belhasa has become a celebrity in his own right, so it is only fitting that his private zoo in the Dubai desert should be so aptly named ‘Fame Park’.
Khaleej Times was granted exclusive access to this animal paradise with a guided tour from the owner himself. The zoo has hosted some of the world’s most famous stars, including players from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City – a huge plus to former player Belhasa who has a deep love for ‘the beautiful game’.
Home to around 95 species and over 500 animals, including giraffe, wild bears, big cats and an array of primates, the zoo is Belhasa’s personal passion.
Now in its eleventh year, the zoo was originally created as a farm for Belhasa and his horses but after discovering he had an allergy, he had to change track. When a friend gifted him a baby lion cub, things took a dramatic turn.
It was the days before the UAE authorities had banned the ownership of exotic pets. Belhasa fell in love with the tiny lion cub gifted to him, often feeding the cub milk from the palm of his hand.
Also studying for a PhD, Belhasa has a busy life as the chairman of the Saif Belhasa Group of over 23 companies. “I’m here sometimes twice, three times a week, but some months I’m coming every day,” he said.
It is a rare honour to be invited into the zoo that has attracted celebrities from far and wide. “This is a unique place and as such, unique people come,” Belhasa said.
“I don’t open it for the public because it’s not a public place. I want you to feel like you’re coming to my farm, to my house. That’s why when guests come, I have to be here and take care of them.”
Daily, Belhasa has a stream of requests from people around the world to visit his farm, but the man who has now become a social media sensation himself with 2.2 million followers on Instagram alone, has strict criteria for the guests who come.
“They have to be someone well known,” he said, and he’s not kidding. Some of his guests in the past have included A-list celebrities, including Lionel Messi, Mariah Carey, Anthony Joshua, Blac Chyna, Ne-Yo and Jason Derulo.
“When I share the people who come here to visit on social media, I want my followers to see someone special,” he said. Belhasa also likes to keep numbers to a minimum to ensure safety at the park, where not all the animals are so happy to see strange faces.
It is not a small project for Belhasa; the daily upkeep of the zoo and its animals come at an enormous cost. Feeding the big cats alone runs into tens of thousands of dollars every month.
While the farm and its 17 staff members and on-call vets are an ongoing expense, this hobby – which he holds close to his heart – allows Belhasa to unwind from the pressures of life as one of Dubai’s top businessmen.
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“It’s the animals that are the most important to me,” he explained, adding that the profit is not a factor in his decision to keep the operation exclusive and unique. “Of course, it costs a lot of money, but I’m happy with that. I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
Belhasa’s corporate life, which includes household names such as the Belhasa Driving School, is a world away from the tranquillity of the desert where he escapes amongst his animals.
Combining his love for the animals and football, Belhasa also built a full-sized pitch in the zoo which has seen some of the world’s top players grace its field.
“Some players come with their coach to Dubai and want to keep training while they’re here so they know they have a place here to practise,” he said.
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