Trafficking illegal drugs in the United Arab Emirates can earn offenders a death sentence, but trafficking wild animals that are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) apparently goes unnoticed if committed by a rich Emirati.
Not so long after a cheetah was found roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi, Dubai residents spotted a grown man “walking” an African cheetah last week near Media City.
After the animal showed visible signs of distress, the man coaxed it back into his fancy Porche Cayenne and left, ostensibly facing no charges for what should be considered a very serious crime.
The cheetah was seen walking around at the end of a leash in a parking lot that looks nothing at all like the Cheetah’s natural habitat in Africa. One expatriate on the scene told Gulf News that the man paraded the animal around for a full 20 minutes, as curious onlookers parked their cars to observe the spectacle, before it became uncomfortably skittish.
Although the United Arab Emirates has been an official member of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, since 2002, officials appear to look the other way when blatantly illegal wildlife trafficking spills into the UAE’s public realm.
Nor is it possible to claim ignorance. A comprehensive list (in Arabic) of endangered animals and helpful tools to identify them have been available to anti-trafficking employees since 2008 thanks to combined efforts between EWS-WWF and the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD).
Nonetheless, the frequency with which wild animals are spotted throughout the Emirates, other Gulf countries, and Egypt suggests that there is a hole in the regulatory system. If there were proper fines in place for individuals who acquire illegally-traded wildlife and traffickers were actually concerned about strict enforcement, then surely they would scale back their efforts.
Private zoos: a right or an abomination?
Instead, Karl Amman – an expert in the industry – told Green Prophet in an interview earlier this year that having a private zoo is almost considered a right among Saudis, Emiratis and other wealthy Arabs in the Gulf Region and parts of North Africa.
Dr Khan, a member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, told the paper that:
No wild animal should be kept on leash and be walked through public places. Wild cats are dangerous to the public … Wildlife is always best in its natural habitats, not in human company.
If you live in a country where ownership of animals that belong in the wild is considered “cool,” won’t you share your thoughts with us. Do you think it should be allowed, do you think the animals are better off in private zoos than they are in public zoos? What do you think of zoos in general? If you are as tired as we are of reading about such chronic threats to biodiversity, we would love some suggestions about the best method for tackling home ownership of wild animals in a country that is sensitive when criticized.
:: Gulf News
More wild animals held as pets in the Middle East: