Ras Al Khor Flamingo Sanctuary, Dubai’s Pink Paradise

The swarms of flamingos with dozens of skyscrapers soaring in the background

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In the last five decades or so, Dubai has grown from a cluster of fishing villages into one of the world’s most famous cities, home to a series of record-breaking monuments. It might come as an utter surprise, but alongside the endless sprawl of concrete, glass and steel, are also a few vestiges of the city’s modest start. Tucked away amid the sunbaked outskirts of downtown Dubai, Ras Al Khor Sanctuary is a natural enclave, whose pink carpet of flamingos beautifully blends with the ultra-modern skyline, a mere short distance away.

Well before the discovery of oil and the ensuing building frenzy, Dubai comprised a collection of three fishing villages, known as Deira, Shindaga, and Bur Dubai. Established in the 18th century, these mud-brick hamlets perched on the banks of Dubai Creek, whose fish-rich waters served as a lifeline for the settlements’ early inhabitants.

 

Over the span of only two centuries, the pint-sized villages evolved into a modern metropolis on par with any world city. As part of Dubai’s relentless expansion, the vital waterway was gradually engulfed by a concrete jungle, leaving the primordial landscape as a distant memory. Nevertheless, there are still swathes of land along the creek, where one can witness the area as it formerly was, free of buildings, roads and any other sign of modernity.

 

Wedged between a couple of car-infested highways, Ras Al Khor Sanctuary is the single-most unspoiled part of the creek. Covered by mangrove forests, inter-tidal areas and mudflats, the 10-hectare sanctuary boasts a rich ecosystem, consisting of over 400 types of animals. Thanks to its ample population of fish, the protected area regularly attracts hordes of migratory birds, amounting to up to 25,000 individual birds across 201 species.

 

This massive influx of winged critters culminates every winter when the reserve’s wetland turns pink as thousands of flamingos nest and rest throughout the creek. Alongside the sanctuary’s pink protagonists are also 13 species of mammals, 14 different reptiles, 52 types of fish as well as other birds, including Socotra cormorants, purple sunbirds, Indian silverbills and Ferruginous ducks, to name just a few.

 

Due to its off-beat location, Ras Al Khor is accessible solely by car. Visitors who wish to have a glimpse of the sanctuary’s ample wildlife have three bird hides to choose from. Featuring a couple of info boards and sets of binoculars, the observatory functions as a breathtaking vantage point of the flamingos as they playfully scamper on the backdrop of Dubai’s iconic skyline.