Tougher penalties show UAE’s commitment to animal welfare, say activists

Federal law 18, issued late last year, raised fines from Dh5,000 to Dh200,000 with a prison term of up to a year for anyone caught abusing, illegally hunting or buying or selling animals.

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ABU DHABI // Jail terms and heavy fines for people convicted of animal abuse are a welcome sign of the Government’s commitment to animal welfare, activists said.

Individuals who are found guilty of abusing or the illegal hunting, buying or selling of animals face a heavier fine of Dh200,000 (up from Dh5,000) and a one-year prison term under Federal Law 18, which was issued late last year.

The use of an animal for scientific experiment without an official permit is subject to a fine of between Dh50,000 and Dh200,000 and a one-year prison sentence.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and the Government were quick to respond to calls to enact legal reform to improve animal welfare, said Dr Manal Al Mansoori, the Emirati head of the Dubai Animal Welfare Group.

About two months ago, the group began posting video footage of abused animals on its Instagram account and sought Sheikh Saif’s support.

“He was one of the people who were very quick in responding and pushing for the law to come out,” said Dr Al Mansoori, adding that amendments to the 2007 law were being drafted at the time. Recent incidents of animal abuse that went viral online helped to further the group’s cause. “We started doing some campaigns and we were surprised with the [quick] response,” she said.

To the group’s delight, Sheikh Saif posted photos of a beehive in his garden online. “If you don’t hurt it, it won’t hurt you,” he said.

Dr Al Mansoori said that “was a strong message to society that you don’t need to abuse animals”.

The Emirates Association For Lawyers and Legal Consultants voiced their support for the legal reform and have suggested printing brochures about the legal amendments.

“A number of famous lawyers said they would be appearing on television to talk about it,” said Dr Al Mansoori.

Fawaz Kanaan, an animal welfare activist, said animal abusers had not been deterred by the current penalties.

“People were not afraid of the law, so action was required. It reached a stage where there were so many reports filed to police and people were showing off who was abusing more animals,” he said. “Last month four cats were shot.”

He reported the incidents to Dubai Police but evidence was lacking. Although Mr Kanaan believed that the tougher penalties would be a stronger deterrent, the law should be made clear to as many people, and in as many languages, as possible.

“It is a very wise decision, but not everyone has heard of it,” said Mr Kanaan, who said he had to rescue a cat that was being choked by a wire wrapped around its neck since the new law was issued.

“It was in an industrial area, so it could have been one of the labourers there,” he said, adding that workers should be briefed on the law because many did not read newspapers.

Mr Kanaan, who started the Save Dubai Stray Cats page on Facebook, will be holding an event to raise awareness about safeguarding animals on February 3 at Zaabeel Park in Dubai. Participants will be briefed on the law.