x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Escaped cheetah dies hours after rescue, as baboons roam Al Ain

Al Ain veterinarian warns of perils of keeping exotic pets as a second baboon is caught within days of a pet cheetah escaping its owners.

AL AIN // The pet cheetah caught last week after escaping its abusive owners died only a few hours later, it was confirmed yesterday.

Dr Majid Al Qassimi, the deputy chief veterinarian at the Al Ain Zoo, said the reasons for the cheetah's death had not been confirmed but it was found "stressed" and severely malnourished.

Dr Al Qassimi said that after escaping from its cage in a private villa, it ate several pets belonging to its owner's Emirati neighbours.

The zoo is awaiting results of a post-mortem examination.

Meanwhile, the second baboon in a week has been found roaming the wilds of the Garden City.

The zoo last Wednesday received a call about an illegally kept baboon that was wandering around Al Masoudi. The female olive baboon jumped from roof to roof, eluding zookeepers before being caught the next morning.

Yesterday another was found roaming Al Ain, but on the other side of town. This one was caught by pest control workers.

Dr Al Qassimi said the cheetah's death was "quite surprising", as there had been no sign of severe illness. But he said cheetahs were known to be susceptible to stress.

The animal had been caught with a net, without tranquillisers, then taken to the zoo in a cage. At first it appeared "normal and content", but it died soon after.

Dr Al Qassimi said it was not the zoo's job to identify the owner who, if caught, could face court action.

He blamed a lack of awareness and education for the illegal habit of keeping exotic animals.

"You cannot keep the animal like that properly," Dr Al Qassimi said. "You do not have the facilities to. It's a real shame when it happens because it is a compound issue, not a single one."

He suggested owners wanted to be seen as unique - "everyone has a dog or a cat, but I have a cheetah".

"People don't understand the consequences of such decisions," Dr Al Qassimi said. "It's a cute cheetah cub now, but in a year you would have a full-grown carnivore at hand, too large to control."

He said the owners also did not realise how sellers obtained their animals.

"They don't understand the part of poaching - illegal work in other countries," he said. "Then it has to travel to you, then there are welfare issues, and then there are no official channels so there is the matter of diseases.

"And when it outgrows its cuteness and becomes a full-size animal, a primate or carnivore - it needs a lot of food."

A cheetah will eat at least a whole chicken for lunch, as well as dietary supplements that are available only at zoos.

And if not fed properly, their hunting instinct could kick in, said Dr Al Qassimi, "which could be very dangerous if children are around".

"Really, the solution is raising public awareness on danger of such activity," he said.

"Instead of paying Dh4,000 for a cub, spend a week on safari. The experience would be much better than keeping them as pets."

osalem@thenational.ae