Model’s wild photoshoot highlights problems with big cats as pets

Roberta Mancino posed with lions, tigers and cheetahs that had been abandoned by their owners once they became too difficult to handle.

Roberta Mancino poses with a tiger as part of a campaign with the Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi. Massimiliano Haim / Caters News Agency
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DUBAI // A model took part in a photo shoot to raise awareness of the dangers of keeping wild animals as house pets.

Italian model Roberta Mancino posed with lions, tigers and cheetahs that had been abandoned by their owners once they became too difficult to handle.

“I would like to help these animals. Unfortunately, people buy non-domesticated animals and after they realise that it is too hard to keep them, they abandon them,” the 33-year-old said.

“I hope that people realise that it is not fair to buy these animals just because they can. The animals should be free in the wild.”

The model, who is also known as a skydiver and is regular visitor to Dubai, became involved with the campaign through a friend who works at Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi.

The zoo has become a home for many wild animals that were once kept as house pets.

“My friend told me he was working in a rescue zoo to help rehabilitate domesticated big cats, so I asked him if there was anything I could do to help,” she said.

“That’s when we decided to do the photoshoot.”

The big cats she posed with were in many cases taken from their natural habitats and trained to suppress their natural instincts, making it impossible to return them to the wild.

“Unfortunately, the animals pictured have been donated to the zoo by people who can no longer look after them,” she said.

“People buy them thinking they’re low-maintenance animals, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The cheetahs in the pictures were confiscated on the Saudi border from smugglers. They were very weak and sick.

“That’s why they didn’t want to come too close, they don’t like humans.

“I’ve had domestic animals in my life, but I don’t agree with keeping wild animals as pets.” Despite the animals having their instincts suppressed, the model admitted there were a few moments where she was concerned for her safety, particularly when posing with a large python and a tiger.

“I also think that animals understand your personality and they can feel if you love them, and when you are relaxed they feel comfortable.”

“To pose with the animals wasn’t so easy. The lion was little and he just wanted to play and run around. The big tiger wanted to play too, with little bites sometimes or jumping up on me.

“She couldn’t understand obviously that she was too big already to play in that way.”

Ms Macino said it was important to support small rescue zoos because, in most cases, wild animals taken there were in a poor condition and, without help, they would die.

“They are called wild animals for a reason – they belong to nature. And even if they can be very friendly, we still have to respect them, just like sharks, and understand the limits when we play with them,” Ms Mancino said.

The Emirates Park Zoo was launched in 2008 by Nasser Al Nuaimi, a senior officer at Abu Dhabi Police. The zoo aims to take in animals that have been confiscated, abandoned or abused by their owners.

Among the animals rescued were baboons, pythons, a giraffe and a number of big cats.