TIM Husband was ready to retire when a tantalising opportunity came his way.
Fresh from a five-year stint at Bali Safari and Marine Park, the Taralga man was offered a Dubai challenge.
Build a 500 hectare safari park with 10,000 animals with an almost unlimited budget. Easy.
Not quite, but Mr Husband, armed with a swag of experience, couldn’t resist.
He spent 11 years as senior zoo keeper at Taronga Park Zoo and then in 2000 became curator at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium. He ran his own zoo consultancy before taking up the Bali post as the park’s manager/curator life and science until 2014.
Wife Wendy, also well known to the Taralga and Goulburn communities, has also worked in some of the locations.
“I thought I was coming home to retire after Bali but the phone rang after a few days, telling me about Dubai,” Mr Husband said in a short break in Goulburn last week.
”I knew about it back in 2005 and Wendy said I should take it if a position ever came up.”
Fast forward and Mr Husband is travelling the world sourcing high-quality animals, employing 493 staff and building exhibits for the Dubai Safari Park. The animals include Komodo dragons, elephants, “all types of antelopes” and much more.
After two years’ work there’s still a long way to go. The first stage of the Dubai Monarchy’s pet project will open early next year and the second, comprising hotels and golf courses, in late 2017. It will be finalised by 2020 in time for the World Expo, which the country is hosting.
Over the past two years Mr Husband has spent $42 million from the Monarchy’s purse. He expects to spend the same in the next two years.
“I enjoy the independence of it most because I’m able to make the decisions and I have the funds,” Mr Husband said.
“I looked at all the other parks, saw the mistakes they made and vowed not to make the same ones.”
The park will be a drive-through open range.
The move has been a cultural awakening but Mr Husband said he’d adapted. He’s not allowed to look a woman in the eye, shake her hand, eat bacon or drink alcohol.
Mrs Husband has just gained permission to work on the Park’s marketing and education for expatriates.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in; it’s completely different,” Mr Husband said.
“In Australia you make sure the animals are kept warm but in Dubai it’s all about keeping them cool.”
He plans to stay in Dubai until 2020 and then “come home” to continue his consultancy.
“We have the farm at Taralga and I miss it,” Mr Husband said.