Tougher action for exotic animal trade needed in Dubai, vets say

Dubai should follow its neighbouring emirate in introducing heavy penalties for anyone owning a wild animal, say vets.

This picture of a serval, a breed of African wild cat, was sent by TM Exotics, a breeder in Thailand, to potential buyers. Courtesy TM Exotics
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DUBAI // A tough new law introduced in Sharjah that prohibits the trade of exotic wild animals should be replicated and strictly enforced in Dubai, vets have said.
A ban on breeding and possessing exotic animals came into force in Sharjah in November last year after a decree by the emirate's Ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.
Anyone found to be in breach of the new rules faces a fine of up to Dh100,000 and will have the animals confiscated.
Dr Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of Dubai's Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Zabeel 2, said tighter local controls and heavier fines would help to tackle the problem in Dubai and would also deter people from buying exotic animals online.
A Facebook community page that gives Dubai as its location is offering cheetah cubs for sale for Dh7,700. The breeder, Thailand-based TM Exotics, is also selling African serval kittens for as little as Dh5,500 or Dh10,280 a pair.
These two breeds of cat, along with ocelots, are advertised as "ready for a hectic family life".
According to the site, the animals are microchipped, vaccinated and wormed. When asked about overseas shipping, the company said it was not considered a problem.
The UAE is a signatory of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species list (Cites) which means rare animals can be traded only with the appropriate paperwork. Cheetahs are included in Appendix I of Cites, which means commercial trade in the animals is not allowed, although the sale of servals and ocelots is permitted.
"It is not prohibited to sell the serval cats, but cheetahs are very different," said Dr Wernery. "To sell them for that price is very cheap, but difficult and controversial. The UAE is a country that imports most of the cheetahs. But there are good people here who breed them and try to reintroduce them into the wild."
Corina Berners, a taxidermist at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai, said serval cats are more or less like any other domestic cats, although cheetahs can be very dangerous.
"They need more space as they have to run, and need better food. The sale of these animals remains common. It is like a status symbol to own the most exotic animal. A cheetah can become domesticated and attached to its owner, but they are still dangerous."
Historically, cheetahs have not been able to breed well in captivity and the demand for wild-caught animals has placed additional stress on populations.
With an estimated 7,500 adults left in the wild, they are named on the Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable to extinction. A report submitted to Cites in July last year by Kuwait said the UAE confiscated 32 cheetahs and four cheetah skins from smugglers between 2007 and 2013.
In the first half of 2014, 11 cheetahs were confiscated at the Ghweifat border post with Saudi Arabia.
As part of the law in Sharjah, the Environment and Protected Areas Authority confiscated four wolves from a home in Al Sabkha in January. The animals were seized after officials received complaints from residents.
Dr Zoe Hamilton, who works at Vienna Vets in Umm Suqeim, said animal welfare laws need to be enforced. "It needs to start with importation of animals to pet stores," said the Australian.
"They are always underweight and sick. That generates a lot of problems. It is also a major welfare issue as people don't know how to keep these animals and demand they are de-clawed and have their teeth removed."
To report the sale of exotic pets in Sharjah, call the Environment and Natural Reserves Authority on 8003722745 or the Arabian Wildlife Centre on 065311999.
nwebster@thenational.ae