Calls for stronger regulation of zoos at UAE’s first animal welfare conference

Stronger regulation of zoos and visiting circuses have been demanded to help protect rare species and halt trafficking of animals.

Cheetah cubs rarely make it to three months of age in captivity, experts say. Antonie Robertson / The National
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DUBAI // Greater regulation of zoos and visiting circuses is needed to help protect rare species and halt the trafficking of endangered animals.

Calls were made at the UAE’s first national conference for animal welfare in Dubai.

Dr Elsayed Mohamed, regional director for animal welfare in the Middle East for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said that while zoos can offer homes to rescued animals unfit to return to the wild, some in the region are fuelling the illegal trade of animals.

“Animal welfare is not often a major concern at some zoos, particularly when animals are transported,” he said.

“More checks should be done on zoos and visiting circuses, to ensure they comply with regulations.

“The value of live wild animals is much greater to tourism than that of a dead animal. The pet trade is having a devastating impact on wild species.”

Dr Mohamed spoke about the illegal import of about 10,000 Royal Pythons into the UAE in the past five years, with only half surviving transit.

Many died because they were taken out of their natural habitat, he said.

In Kenya, African elephants are key to tourism, as is marine wildlife in areas around the Red Sea. Dr Mohamed warned that tourism could be seriously damaged if species become extinct as a result of human behaviour.

He estimated a live shark is worth around US$100,000 (Dh367,000) a year to tourism, yet a few hundred dollars if fished and sold.

Between 2004 and 2014, a million parrots were traded internationally according to IFAW, but a further million also captured died before shipping.

Cheetahs are an Appendix 1 species with Cites and there is a high demand in the Arabian Peninsula. Many of them die before the age of three months as they have special needs as cubs and difficult to care for.

New Federal National Council legislation will increase enforcement and fines to dampen black market trade in exotic pets.

By law, only zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, breeding and research centres are allowed to keep wild or exotic animals.

A brochure on the dangers and conservation risks of keeping exotic pets, compiled in partnership with IFAW and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, is being distributed around schools to educate the next generation.

Dr Saif Al Nuaimi, executive manager at the Emirates Animal Welfare Society, said attitudes are changing towards animal welfare in the UAE, and the law is beginning to catch up.

“Our mission is a moral responsibility to preserve and maintain animal welfare through proposing law and policies,” he said.

“First we will come up with the legislative cover and then provide answers for issues such as the crisis of stray dogs and cats.

“Now there is a fine of DH1,000 if someone tortures a pet, we want to increase these fines to act as a deterrent.”