Starting January 28, it will be the year of the monkey as per the Chinese calendar, but in the United Arab Emirates it will be time for cheetahs, leopards and many other exotic animals to celebrate. A newly passed law renders possession of “all types of wild and domesticated but dangerous animals” as a pet illegal, according to Dubai-based Gulf News.
Effective immediately, The Law on Regulation of Ownership of Dangerous Animals requires that only licensed zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, breeding and research centers may keep wild or exotic animals.
May seem intuitive that wild, and often carnivorous, large animals vulnerable to unpredictable behavior are best cared for by professionals. But throughout the Gulf nations, owning exotic pets is seen as a symbol of power and wealth. Who hasn’t seen images on social media of a lion riding shotgun in a young Saudi’s gold-plated luxury car? Look at the Instagram account of the Crown Prince of Dubai, shown below, who often posts pictures of his adorable baby big cats.
In March, a tiger was spotted weaving through bumper-to-bumper traffic on a busy Doha, Qatar highway (image below). A commuter filmed the animal’s antics and posted it on Twitter, garnering its own hashtag (@DohaTiger), and prompting one viewer to complain, “This obsession of keeping wild animals by rich kids in the Gulf has gone too far.” In Qatar, it is illegal to keep a tiger as a pet, and social media users were quick to point out the owner would be in trouble once officials uncovered his identity. But, according to the Convention on the Illegal Trade of Endangered Species, complaints of wild animals as pets in Qatar are on the rise.
Back in the UAE, officials urge the public to report cases of pet wild animals. Get caught with a leopard on a leash or a cougar on a chain, or any other kind of exotic animal at home or in public, and face a jail term of up to six months, or a fine of up to $136,000, or both.
Penalties are more severe for anyone who uses an animal to frighten or attack another person, including a jail term up to seven years for an attack resulting in physical disability, and life imprisonment if the victim dies.
The new ruling also requires all imported animals to be registered and carry official Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) certificates as well as standard UAE veterinary certificates. Beginning in June, dog owners must keep their pets leashed when in public, and hold valid animal permits indicating that the animals are up-to-date in required vaccinations.