x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Call to curb exotic animal trade

Experts warn keeping dangerous and rare animals improperly can be a hazard to people's health in the wake of an arrest of UAE national for smuggling rare baby animals See video of the animals being removed from his luggage

Experts warn keeping dangerous and rare animals improperly can be a hazard to people's health in the wake of the arrest of a UAE national in Bangkok for smuggling rare baby animals <b> See video of baby leopards being removed from his luggage </b>
Experts warn keeping dangerous and rare animals improperly can be a hazard to people's health in the wake of the arrest of a UAE national in Bangkok for smuggling rare baby animals See video of baby leopards being removed from his luggage

DUBAI // Tougher measures are needed to combat the thriving international trade in endangered species, a specialist said yesterday.

Customs officials should have experts on hand to help identify animals not allowed into the country, said Reza Khan, from the public parks and horticulture department at Dubai Municipality.

Smugglers should be forced to pay the cost of returning the animals themselves, rather than have shelters bear the burden, Dr Khan said.

His comments follow the arrest in Bangkok of a man apparently trying to smuggle two leopards, a bear, a gibbon and a monkey to the UAE.

Thai police detained NM, 36, an Emirati, last Friday just before he boarded a flight to Dubai. He has been released on bail but must stay in Thailand as investigations continue.

The UAE has taken steps to halt the trade in endangered animals. It is one of 175 countries party to the Cites agreement, or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which bans or closely regulates the trade of 5,000 species of animals.

The UAE signed the Cites agreement in 1974. In 1988, it became the first country to withdraw, then rejoined in 1990.

In 2002 the UAE passed a federal law incorporating the international treaty, and in 2008 it distributed an Arabic list of the prohibited species to government officials.

Offenders face a maximum of three months in prison and/or a fine of Dh5,000 to Dh30,000.

"Smuggling goes on around the world. It is such a racket. It is difficult unless the governments are very sophisticated," Dr Khan said.

The municipality has taken in so many creatures - including 10 pythons last year - that it cannot accept any more, he said.

"They should stop it at the airport and tell the person who is bringing it to send it back with his own money," Dr Khan said. "If you put him in jail he will come out."

Some families in the UAE like to keep wild animals - leopards, tigers, lions, crocodiles, baboons and monkeys, for example - in their homes as status symbols.

But if they are not properly looked after these creatures can suffer, or hurt their owners. Many end up abandoned after they grow, and become less cuddly, burdening already-overcrowded animal shelters.

"Some people think, 'I am powerful or rich, I can have anything I want'. It's like having a Ferrari - something that not everybody can have," said Ayesha Kelaif, the Emirati founder of Dubai Animal Rescue Centre. "People just don't understand how difficult it is to keep these pets."

Ms Kelaif's centre looks after South American alpacas, Shetland ponies, gazelles, monkeys, tortoises, a python and more than 200 other animals that have been abandoned or run away, up from 160 three months ago.

She receives so many requests to take in animals that she is petitioning the Government for more land.

Lions, leopards and cheetahs are the most desirable, and more recently, monkeys, baboons and hyenas, she said.

Some families keep miniature zoos in their homes, said one source. "There are large collections kept by numerous people. It becomes a fashion."

The animals were well cared for, with keepers and veterinarians on hand, he said. "They are keeping them for pleasure and want to see them in the best condition."

Dubai Customs did not respond to requests for comment, and the Ministry of Environment and Water, which oversees the UAE's involvement in Cites, could not be reached.

chuang@thenational.ae