x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Where animal traders run wild

Kuwait carried out its first animal confiscation last month under pressure from activists campaigning against trade in exotic wildlife as pets.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait carried out its first animal confiscation last month, seven years after signing up to an international convention to clamp down on the trade in endangered species, a move hailed by conservationists as an important step towards stemming a growing tide of animals trafficked into the Gulf state. The animal, a Eurasian brown bear, was seized from a home in Kabed, on the outskirts of Kuwait City, by officials from the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the police after a tip-off from K's Path (the Kuwait Society for the Protection of Animals and their Habitat). K's Path, a non-governmental organisation, had mounted an "undercover investigation" to monitor and photograph the bear after receiving calls from the public that the animal was on sale for 2,000 Kuwaiti dinar (Dh25,500), said John Peaveler, the managing director of K's Path. The bear was chained by the neck to the inside of a tiny, sun-exposed cage and fed on rice and meagre amounts of water, their website said. The society took their evidence to the EPA, which is responsible for Kuwait's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreements. Countries that sign up to Cites are bound by its rules, which regulate seizure, housing and repatriation of protected species. Kuwait signed up in 2002, but has not enforced the rules because of a "lack of complementary animal protection laws and of political willpower", K's Path said. Mr Peaveler said the EPA co-ordinated with the police and Kuwait Zoo to confiscate the bear, along with a baboon. Other animals including a cheetah and a gazelle that were discovered by K's Path investigation were removed before the impound team arrived, he said. K's Path's website said Kuwait has a large black market for illegally imported animals, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, gazelles, jackals and chimpanzees, often used as pets. The spokesman for Kuwait's Public Authority for Agriculture and Fish Resources (PAAF) refused to discuss the case. The EPA did not respond to questions about the bear. The bear is now being kept in Kuwait Zoo. "This is an important step, but we're trying to get him to a proper sanctuary in Greece," Mr Peaveler said. Farida Mulla Ahmed, the director of Kuwait Zoo, said the bear is being kept in a temporary cage until the zoo finishes building a more suitable enclosure in the next two months. "Since I have been director of -Kuwait Zoo for the last two years, we've done three or four confiscations," but this was the first from a private home. "We have confiscated a bison, a bear and three cheetahs this year, and maybe 20 baboons," she said. Cites restricts the trade of about 28,000 species of plant and 5,000 species of animals, including the brown bear, which is ranked as "vulnerable". The animal used to roam many parts of the Middle East, but it is now extinct in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Syria, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's website said. Iran and Iraq still have native populations. Although statistics about the trafficking of animals in the Arabian Peninsula are scarce, both Mr Peaveler and Ms Ahmed said the number of illegal animals in Kuwait is growing. "There are anecdotal reports that the number of animals in trade is rising in the Middle East, but regulation of this trade requires a co-ordinated response across the region," said Steven Broad, executive director of Traffic International, an NGO which monitors global trade in wildlife. "The levels of wildlife trade through the Middle East region is an issue of concern that is sure to be thrown under the international spotlight with the forthcoming meeting of Cites, scheduled in Qatar next March," Mr Broad said. Interpol estimates that the global trade in wildlife and their parts, which are used in medicines or for decoration, totals about US$20 billion (Dh73.4bn) each year. It is the world's third largest criminal activity after drugs and firearms. Many animals do not survive the journey. Crammed into tiny compartments, starved, dehydrated or crushed, US customs estimates that 90 per cent of smuggled animals die in transit to the United States. "The number of illegal animals has skyrocketed here in the last couple of years," Mr Peaveler said. "Recently, there was a tiger in Jabriya, which turned out to be a cub. A cheetah was found loose in the streets too." K's Path's shelter said it never refused an unwanted animal and builds enclosures for the animals as they are needed. Their most recent additions are three baboons, which have been put up in a custom-built, 2,000-dinar enclosure. The sanctuary rehouses domestic animals too. About 120 cats and dogs found new families through the organisation last year. jcalderwood@thenational.ae