DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Think of Dubai and often the first thing that comes to mind is its jagged, space-age skyline, with the world’s tallest building piercing the occasional cloud over the desert sheikhdom.

The shadows cast by those buildings, however, grow ever-closer to a place often missed by tourists gawking at Dubai’s luxury malls and reveling in its nonstop nightlife – the flamingos of the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary.

Yes, flamingos. And no, they aren’t imported. They’re locals.

Thousands of greater flamingos live in the saltwater wetland park along the banks of the Dubai Creek. The 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) park was created by a ruler’s decree in 1985 and later fenced off.

That was more than 30 years ago, the same year the sheikhdom founded what would become the long-haul carrier Emirates. Then, only the 39-story Sheikh Rashid Tower stood among the sand dunes.

Today, that tower is dwarfed by the 163-story Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, and a downtown filled with skyscrapers. Recently, the state-backed construction firm Emaar announced plans for its Dubai Creek Harbor project. It will surround the sanctuary, as well as be home to The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbor – which the developer says will be the world’s new tallest building in 2020.

Emaar says “this sanctuary will remain sacrosanct,” but has provided few other details. For now, the long-legged flamingos wait to fly in that new skyline.

Here’s a gallery of images by photographer Kamran Jebreili capturing Dubai’s flamingo reserve as it slowly becomes surrounded by high-rises.

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