For as long as I can remember, the UAE has forever had a massive problem with importing and selling exotic animals into this country. I was about 4 years old when my family and I first moved here. A few days after moving into our home we were terrorized by an aggressive baboon hissing and screeching outside our kitchen window. This was in 1990. There were no animal control services (are there any now? I’m not too sure) and so 3 policemen showed up with pool-cleaning nets to catch him.
21 years later, we’re still facing the same problems of wild animals running out of villas on the loose in the streets of the UAE’s major cities. Last December, a poor cheetah was found strolling along the sides of some buildings in Sharjah. Just earlier this month, a UAE national was caught in Bangkok airport with a suitcase full of 4 baby leopards, a monkey, a bear, a monkey and a gibbon. And then of course, there was the most ridiculous footage we received of a young teen nuzzling up to two almost fully-grown lions in her home.
I just recently returned from a safari trip to Botswana, and got to experience the ways of ‘the bush’ firsthand. It was truly breathtaking and to be able to witness lions, elephants, birds, impala, bugs, mongoose, warthogs, zebra (and so on) co-existing so beautifully in open land. Nat-geo and Animal Planet are great, but nothing beats heading out on a walking safari with a knowledgeable guide. I believe many safari-goers agree that once they’ve done one safari the concept of visiting a zoo again is just impossible and the notion of keeping a wild animal locked up is just cruel. Obviously, the exceptions are that some are kept there for research and education purposes.
Deepthi Unnikrishnan, one of the other multimedia producers at The National just uploaded her piece today on two lions that were found at a private villa in Abu Dhabi with their canines rasped and paws declawed. They’re undergoing surgery and rehabilitation at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort at the moment and unfortunately will have to spend the rest of their lives in captivity there (although it is apparently quite a lovely place).
Point is, yes, the UAE has some major human rights issues that it still needs to deal with and that takes priority, but there also needs to be some serious campaigning on the exotic animal trade in the UAE. No one no matter how wealthy someone is they should be able to get away with smuggling and buying wild animals in this country. I can’t even begin to imagine how many exotic pets are hanging out in palaces and backyards; these examples are just a small number of cases that have been brought up the media here.
We can only hope that with the rise of these stories that UAE residents will be more aware that it’s just not acceptable.