x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dh20,000 in illegal skins found in shops

Authorities seize python and crocodile skins from souvenir and pet shops in Bur Dubai and Deira.

Crocodile and python skins are the most common illegal animal products to be sold in the UAE, officials say.
Crocodile and python skins are the most common illegal animal products to be sold in the UAE, officials say.

DUBAI // Authorities seized nearly Dh20,000 (US$5,400) in python and crocodile skins from souvenir and pet shops in Bur Dubai and Deira in several raids, officials said yesterday. The municipality said the skins came from Nile crocodiles and four pythons - one of which was an amazing nine metres long.The record for a python is just over 10 metres. Both creatures are protected under provisions in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which regulates international trade in threatened animals. "The rules are very clear, and the municipality ensures that all shops are updated on the regulations for trade in such goods," said Hashim al Awadhi, head of the municipality's veterinary services section. "However, many shops sell without permission to make more money."

The department plans to continue the surprise inspections and launch educational programmes to curb the trade, Mr al Awadhi added. Abdulrab Alhemeri, assistant manager for Cites in Abu Dhabi, said that trade in endangered animals had been a more serious problem before the UAE introduced laws regulating international trade of flora and fauna in 2002. "Even at the beginning, it was still a problem because people were unaware of the law and were doing it unintentionally," Mr Alhemeri said. The situation has slowly improved; last year there were 21 items confiscated, down from 170 in 2007. "The issue at the moment is still awareness," Mr Alhemeri said.

Depending on the species involved, fines can reach Dh50,000 and prison terms can be as long as six months. But because at least half of the people caught with contraband are unaware of the law, authorities tend to confiscate their goods rather than imprison the offenders. Only one person was taken to court in 2007 and two were prosecuted last year. "Sometimes they really do not know what they are holding, so the items are just confiscated, but there are times when they really hide it in order to cross the borders," he said. Cites has been working with schools to educate children on how to spot endangered species and what to do if they find any for sale. According to Mr Alhemeri, the most common items found and confiscated are python skins, alligator skins, ivory, live falcons, and certain species of parrots. It is, however, possible to have licences for certain species. Most of the animals and animal products come from Africa, where border controls are more lax and the regulations regarding trade and ownership are not as stable, Mr Alhemeri said. pmenon@thenational.ae nsamaha@thenational.ae