DUBAI // Wildlife campaigners say more must be done to enforce laws regarding the sale of wild animals in the UAE, as Instagram accounts continue to be used to sell exotic species.
Baby baboons, poisonous slow loris and tigers are among the creatures available for sale on UAE-based pages.
Federal Law No 22 came into force this year and regulates the possession, trade and breeding of dangerous animals.
It states that only zoos, wildlife parks, circuses and breeding and research centres are allowed to keep wild or exotic animals.
But despite raids and seizures by enforcement officers in Sharjah last month, animal welfare campaigners said social media remains an open market for dealers.
In the comments section on open pages, bidders offer “3,000” and “4,500”.
“How much for the monkey?”, one user wrote.
“There aren’t the controls on social media for this kind of trading – to be able to do this online is ridiculous,” said Tamer Khafaga, a conservation officer at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
“It needs more education and tougher measurements.”
Despite a desire by the authorities to tackle the trade and crack down on private ownership, which have long been paraded on social media, the issue is complex.
Campaigners said it is also not clear if police, municipal authorities or environment officials are responsible for enforcement.
Mr Khafaga said there is also a lack of clarity on regulations and implications of keeping and import of wild animals.
“These animals aren’t from the UAE, meaning they have been brought from outside the country. Is that a lack of knowledge at the ports, a lack of agreements? We need stricter regulations and rules in place at the ports and airports for people bringing these animals from abroad. The solution is education for people working in these areas.”
Jason Baker, vice president of international campaigns for animal welfare group Peta, said sales on social media were “cavalier”, with buyers and sellers having little regard for how to care for an animal.
“Exotic animals have such unique needs, but people are led to believe that if wild animals are hand-raised, they become tame, when in fact their instincts remain intact,” he said.
Pictures of slow loris, a seemingly cute and fluffy creature, being tickled are widespread online. It is in fact one of the few venomous primates, with a toxic bite, often traded in Indonesia.
“Exotic animals sold as pets often end up neglected, locked away in barren cages with little to keep them occupied, both physically and mentally. The exotic animal trade is dangerous for humans as well — frustrated animals often lash out,” Mr Baker said.
“Instagram needs to take responsibility and have policies against the sale of companion and other live animals. Accounts that advertise animals for sale teaches people animals are nothing more than commodities, disposable, and exist for the sole purposes of our entertainment, and this needs to be stopped immediately.”
Away from social media, the authorities are cracking down in raids on homes and farms, including 14 in three months by the Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah.
Officers found including lions and dangerous snakes, often bought by owners when they are young, only to become unmanageable.
Charles Marty, a vet working in the UAE, said awareness on the part of owners is typically very low.
“People don’t realise that while these animals can be cute and cuddly when they’re young, they can grow up to be very difficult to look after – and potentially dangerous,” he said.
“Living in someone’s home or apartment isn’t their natural environment and not the way they’ve evolved.”
Like humans, animals can also come with psychological issues or physical ill health.
“Often, you don’t know the history behind the animals so you don’t know where they’ve been bred, or come from. You don’t know their disease status which can be a potential problem for those who buy them, for the family in the home with the animal.
“Even smaller animals such as the slow loris, a favourite of the illegal animal trade, which though small and cute to look at, has a venom deadly enough to potentially kill a human, need expert care.
“They need the expertise of how to feed them, how to take care of them. It’s a much more specialised animal than a cat or dog. They’re not designed to be pets.”