ABU DHABI // The FNC is discussing an outright ban on people owning wild animals.
Under a draft law, which covers possession of wild animals by zoos, nature reserves and people, offenders could receive fines of up to Dh500,000 – and jail.
While it is generally illegal to keep wild animals as pets, permits can be obtained through the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.
But the FNC committee reviewing the law is considering a ban on ownership for all people, to counter animal trafficking and attacks, said Faisal Al Thabbahi, a member from Fujairah.
Offences would include wild animal trade and “using them to threaten or scare others”, Mr Al Thabbahi said.
“The law aims to protect humans against dangers posed by wild animals and disease transmission, and to ensure the animals get good care,” said Azza bin Suleiman, from Dubai.
“Recently, there have been notable instances of people roaming around with wild animals.”
But Emirati Zaki Khanasheb, 45, who has five lions and seven hyenas on his farm near Al Dhaid, said a ban would be unfair if all precautions were taken.
He said it could also harm the animals. “I have had a lion for 15 years. If I stop visiting it for a few weeks, it stops eating.
“Also, animals do not reproduce if they are not in a happy, comfortable environment, and they are reproducing a lot.”
The law would regulate the trade and breeding of animals and procedures that owners or keepers must follow, such as vaccinations, insurance, suitable shelters and licences.
Concerned parties will be invited in two weeks to respond to the committee’s suggested amendments, Ms bin Suleiman said.
Jasem Ali, who owns a private zoo in Ras Al Khaimah with a collection of 40 different species, welcomed the suggested regulations.
The fines are inevitable and would be a deterrent because the owners of some zoos “do not abide by the law and illegally sell the animals”, said Mr Ali, whose zoo comprises 150 animals.
“I have lions, tigers, wolves, all types of hyenas, and I have received many such offers until this day,” he said.
Mr Ali praised the idea of banning people from keeping exotic animals. After opening his zoo in 2009 with only non-dangerous animals, he later expanded it to predatory beasts that owners no longer wanted. “We got the idea to provide a better environment and shelter for them,” he said.
But Mr Khanasheb was not convinced.
“I have official permits and they are all legal,” he said. “It has been my hobby since I was a child.”
A ministry committee issued his permits after checking the cages and how the animals were fed. They provided feedback and, Mr Khanasheb said, visited him again after he had made the recommended changes.
“So I coordinated with them from A to Z,” he said.
Mr Khanasheb visits the animals each day and is designing areas he says are similar to nature reserves to replace the cages. He plans to add artificial lakes.
“Animal welfare is very important to me because I love them,” he said.
A committee should visit each owner and check the animals before banning ownership. “As for those who abuse their animals and put them in small cages that are fit for birds, they should be banned,” Mr Khanasheb said.