Children help campaign against exotic pets

Youngsters asked to give their thoughts on ways of persuading people that rare animals have no place in the home.

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DUBAI // Schoolchildren have helped an animal-welfare group develop its latest campaign, which is expected to be seen by a million people online.

Seventeen pupils between the ages of 8 and 12 from three Dubai schools were the first people to be shown the rough drawings of Tantalo, a story about a young monkey that is trapped by hunters.

The images, together with text in Arabic, were projected on to a screen at the Shindagha offices of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) last week, as the youngsters, perched on little green chairs, watched intently.

The aim was to ensure that the message of the story - that wild animals should not be kept as pets - would be understood by the target age group. Hassan Al Sady, an illustrator, listened carefully as the pupils commented on his work.

At one point, a few of the youngsters became distracted as they realised they could make animal shapes in the projector beam with their hands, but for most of the session they remained engaged. They raised their hands to ask if they could comment, and some even pointed out grammar and spelling errors in the draft text. Afterwards Mr Al Sady said he would amend two of the drawings in response to the children's remarks.

"I learnt a lot from the students; 100 per cent they understood what happens in the story and the message is clear," he said.

Fatma Sami Al Hamadi, an 11-year-old Emirati from Modern Skills School, said: "The story was very nice and I was really excited about it. I learnt that we should never let endangered species be hunted and sold to people and put in the hands of kids who are not responsible."

Omar Rami, 9, a Palestinian who attends the Al Twar branch of Dubai National School, said: "I learnt that you don't have to kill animals or do anything to them. If you do things that are bad to animals then we won't have a better future."

The third school represented was Otbah bin Azwaan Primary.

Yusra Nayef, who teaches English at Dubai National School, said this type of session was important as issues such as conservation and animal welfare were not taught in the classroom.

"It was very interesting and the children need to be given information about the environment because, really, they don't have any idea about animals.

"In science, we teach them the groups of the animals, but they don't know what happens to animals."

Dr Elsayed Mohamed, the programme manager at Ifaw's Dubai office, which covers the Middle East and North Africa, said the new campaign was important because much of the demand for exotic pets came from children.

This was borne out by the pupils in the group, many of whom had owned pets such as parrots and turtles, though in most cases the animals had died.

"Kids are the motive for the parent to buy these animals," said Dr Mohamed.

"It's not the parent who buys it for himself, mostly it's because the kids love animals. Every kid would like to have a pet.

"If your kids push you and say, 'Please, I'd like to have an animal', emotionally you feel you should try to meet his demands."

To illustrate the point, Dr Mohamed said the school his 16-year-old son attended - not one of the ones that took part in the awareness campaign session - was holding a market.

"Any student can bring anything from his home and offer it for sale. My son told me, most of them bring animals, somebody brings a snake, somebody brings a cat, a dog, even a monkey.

"They have this animal but they become bored with it, tired of feeding it, and it is not enjoyable any more."