DUBAI // You can no longer ship in a big cat for your back yard, but a kangaroo is fine under a new federal decree governing the importation of rare animals.
The rules, issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water, mean permits will no longer be issued to import animals for personal or commercial use.
Only breeding centres, universities, zoos and public authorities that are licensed by the ministry are allowed to bring any of the animals covered by the legislation into the country - provided they meet a number of conditions.
The regulations are contained in a ministerial decree that was issued in July last year with very little fanfare. The document includes a list of animals that may not be imported for personal or commercial use.
They include lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards and pumas.
The big cats are coveted by collectors in the UAE, many of whom buy them as cubs but are unable to cope once the animals become full-grown.
There is a blanket ban on importing primates, including monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas.
The ban also covers wolves, bears, elephants, zebras, rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, alligators, crocodiles, walruses, dolphins, porpoises and penguins.
Other animals that may be imported only by institutions include lemurs, giant anteaters, bison, buffalo, giraffes, wild dogs, jackals, seals and some snakes.
The decree includes a second list of domesticated animals that can be imported for commercial purposes if the ministry's conditions are met.
This includes pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs, as well as grouse, partridge, pheasant and other game birds.
Kangaroos, gazelles, camels, llamas, several types of deer, ostriches, parrots, tortoises, iguana and small pythons may also be imported by commercial establishments.
Each shipment must be accompanied by a veterinary health certificate, a certificate of origin and a certificate issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Under the new rules, an individual or dealer would be refused an import permit for animals included on the first list even with Cites documents.
The decree says: "All incoming animal shipments shall be subject to the legislations and regulations related to veterinary quarantine that are in effect in the UAE."
Cheetahs are particularly popular among collectors here because they are the most easily domesticated type of big cat, but many die because they are not cared for properly or are given an unsuitable diet.
Dr Joerg Kinne, a pathologist at Dubai's Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, told a conference last year that post-mortem examinations had been carried out on more that 100 big cats at the lab.
Cheetahs were by far the most commonly seen species, followed by lions and tigers.
The new regulations were welcomed by Dr Elsayed Mohamed, the Middle East regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).
But Dr Mohamed said they would not put an end to the trade in rare wildlife in the UAE as they covered only imports.
"It does not completely solve the problem because it does not hit ownership," he said. "We need legislation here to control and regulate ownership of wild animals.
"This legislation will not prevent totally sales of cheetahs because there is captive breeding here.
"If you see a cheetah here it will have either been imported before the legislation, or secondly it may have been captive-bred here, or thirdly it may have been smuggled in.
"So it is a good step forward, but not a full solution."
The illegal trade in cheetahs is to be discussed in Bangkok next month at a meeting of Cites signatories.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have jointly submitted a proposal calling for an independent study of the trade to assess its impact on wild populations.
The researchers would determine the sources of illegally traded cheetahs and trace the routes used to smuggle them.
The proposal last week received the backing of the Arab signatories to Cites at a meeting in Jordan.