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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Social media sites should step up ... and stop exotic animal traders

The law on exotic animals is clear, but Facebook and Instagram pages allow dealers to act with impunity

Despite a nationwide ban, exotic animals such as cheetah cubs continue to be sold on social media accounts. Sammy Dallal / The National
Despite a nationwide ban, exotic animals such as cheetah cubs continue to be sold on social media accounts. Sammy Dallal / The National

This country has strict and clear legislation designed to protect animals and, in particular, dangerous or exotic breeds. Federal Law No 22 of 2016 regulates the possession, trade and breeding of such creatures, and came into force earlier this year. But, as The National reported, the black market trade in cheetahs continues to thrive.

Few of us need convincing of the foolhardiness of keeping such exotic and dangerous animals in captivity: raising wild animals outside their natural habitat increases their stress exponentially and delivers obvious health consequences. Rare breeds need special care and diet as well as the freedom to exercise. They also pose safety risks to those who raise them. Nevertheless, several rogue traders seem happy to keep sourcing and selling cubs.

The problem lies neither with regulation nor enforcement. The Environment and Protected Areas Authority continues to raid homes where exotic and endangered animals are known to be kept. The law itself sets out penalties of up to Dh700,000 for possession, which brings us to the question of why traders continue to flout the regulations? Surely the tough penalties should provide enough of a deterrent.

As with any war on smuggling, to effectively combat the problem one has to tackle the supply networks used by gangs and dealers to trade exotic animals. In recent years, as this newspaper reported, there has been a noticeable uptick in advertising and trading animals on social media. As Patricia Tricorache, of the International Cheetah Conservation Fund, said: “We have recorded about 50 social media accounts trading animals, but five seem to be major dealers in the UAE.”

These accounts could easily be tackled and blocked. It is in neither Facebook's nor Instagram's interests to serve as the conduit for illicitly traded animals. But they do, in part because the dealers know that social media provides a global marketplace and sufficient anonymity to act with near impunity. Just as social media sites have sought to close down the dissemination of extremist material on its channels, they must now be encouraged to exhibit zero tolerance to these traders. Only then will the trade in cheetahs be stemmed.