Animal smuggling, along with habitat loss and poaching, poses one of the greatest threats to wildlife. Endangered species are still being smuggled across borders, kept inside homes as pets - risking harm to human inhabitants as well - and killed for the ingredients of quack medicine.
In the UAE, smuggling is a booming business. Small wonder. There has never been a recorded case in UAE courts involving the prosecution of an animal smuggler.
In 1990, the country joined the Cites agreement (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which bans or regulates the trade of more than 5,000 species, and passed a federal law on the agreement in 2002. The law stipulates a maximum of three months in jail, a fine of up to Dh30,000 or both. Smugglers are also required to pay the costs of caring for animals until they are returned to their habitat.
But despite those measures, the issue persists largely because the law is not enforced. As The National reported last week, animal experts said that shelters are usually forced to bear the burden of looking after animals that are seized by authorities and returning them to their countries of origin. Reza Khan, from the public parks and horticulture department at Dubai Municipality, said that customs officials should have experts on hand to help identify animals that are not allowed into the country.
The trade thrives partially because wealthy families are on the hunt for wild animals, which are often considered a status symbol. People have admitted, and even bragged on television, that they kept wild animals as pets.
There is also a lack of awareness of the risks of the trade. Animals are often smuggled in unsafe conditions that might lead to their deaths. In 2007, for example, 28 cheetahs became sick, and some died, while they were being smuggled to Yemen from sub-Saharan Africa.
The law should be enforced and people made aware that keeping wildlife as pets is cruel, not cool.