DUBAI // A young lioness that escaped from her owner is believed to have roamed the streets for more than three hours before she was captured by a team of Dubai Municipality animal welfare officers.
Dubai Police said they received reports of the lioness prowling the streets of Al Barsha neighbourhood, one of the newer residential developments on the city’s west side, at about 7pm on Thurday.
The animal was thought to have been on the loose since about 6pm and was caught three hours later, a rescuer said.
Officials said they did not know how she escaped from her home, located a few blocks from where she was found.
Thani Al Suwaidi was one of four Dubai Municipality animal welfare workers to respond to the police call asking for help in capturing the lioness.
The team arrived on the scene at 8.30pm to find the lioness crouching between two houses as police and about 15 onlookers kept a safe distance.
“It was lying down. A trainer was next to it but ... the lion was not listening to him,” Mr Al Suwaidi said.
“It was just lying down because there were too many people and it was frightened.”
The animal was thought to be about six months old. Mr Al Suwaidi said because the lioness was small his team were able to catch her without resorting to sedation. Two animal welfare workers stood in front of her and two behind.
“A lion that size can’t jump really high, so basically it had to go through us. Thank God, alhamdulillah, we controlled the situation,” Mr Al Suwaidi said.
They captured her using a catch-pole, similar to those used for catching stray dogs.
“As soon as we restrained the animal, she got a little erratic. We subdued her and then put her in our vehicle.”
The lioness, which Mr Al Suwaidi said did not have a name, was kept overnight at the Dubai Municipality veterinary centre.
Yesterday, when she was transferred to Dubai Zoo, the lioness became a little more defensive, Mr Al Suwaidi said.
“She was trying to attack us all. We had to sedate her,” he said.
“She sounds much bigger than she looks. She made me jump. When she roars, the sound is terrifying.”
The animal was in “great shock” after escaping, said Dr Reza Khan, Dubai Zoo’s wildlife specialist.
“That would be a shock for her to be in the open world without the cage. Then, she was captured, so that was kind of traumatic for a wild animal when you go and capture it,” he said.
“But she will recover.”
While the lionness was not declawed, two of her canine teeth are missing.
Dr Khan said a full health check would be completed once the animal had settled down.
The big cat cannot be reintroduced into the wild because, after being removed from her pride, she would lose predatory instincts, Dr Khan said.
She will remain at the zoo, where she will gradually be introduced to the lion population there.
“It will always expect food to be in front of him or her. It would be killed by another one – it wouldn’t know how to defend itself,” he said.
Although it is illegal to keep wild animals as household pets, exceptions are made for members of the Ruling Family or anyone who has official authorisation, officials said.
Illegal ownership of smuggled animals is not as popular as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is not uncommon in the UAE, said Dr Khan.
He called for tougher laws to prevent private ownership of such animals.
“I think Government has legislated against keeping these animals captive, but we need a wildlife act,” Dr Khan said.
“There should be a real severe punishment if you’re having wild animals – especially dangerous wild animals, like crocodiles, lions, tigers, orangutan, gorillas. It could endanger anybody’s life, not only the owner’s.”
Ghaith Al Falasi, head of the inspection unit for Dubai Municipality’s veterinary services, said this was the first incidence of a lion escaping in the emirate this year.
“We had two others in 2015, but they weren’t lions, they were cheetahs,” Mr Al Falasi said. The owners were not charged in either case.