Citizens who own an exotic pet will now face fines and jail sentences
Cheetahs, tigers and lions are considered a status symbol across the region
Cheetahs, tigers and lions have infamously become a status symbol in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE).
But now wealthy citizens taming such wild animals to keep as pets face a $136,000 (700,000 Dirham) fine or jail.
After years of pressure from animal welfare groups, the Gulf country has passed a law banning the private ownership and trade of wild and dangerous animals.
Anyone seen in public walking their exotic pet – taking a tiger for a stroll may sound ludicrous, but is not unheard of in the UAE – will have the animal confiscated and could face up to six months in jail, according to a copy of the law obtained by CNN.
Ronel Barcellos, manager of the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center, told CNN: “The UAE has come a long way … I am happy to see that the law has been passed, but steps need to be taken to ensure that it is implemented properly.”
The new law is effective immediately and owners are required to hand over their pets to the authorities.
My tiger’s bigger than yours
Ownership of exotic pets has long been considered a status symbol across the Gulf country.
Wealthy owners have been spotted walking their tigers on public beaches in the UAE, and often post pictures on social media flaunting their exotic animal collection.
Some owners have showcased their cheetahs in front of luxury cars, while others have gotten up close and personal with the dangerous animals.
“The problem in the Middle East is that people are willing to keep wild animals as pets,” Elsayed Mohamed, the Middle East regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told CNN.
Even the Crown Prince of Dubai, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, has posted several pictures of himself with a lion on Instagram.
The lions, cheetahs and tigers in question have been illegally taken from their natural environment and smuggled into the UAE.
These endangered animals are then usually mistreated, chained up in unsuitable cages, and later when their upkeep proves too laborious, they are often abandoned – leaving private individuals, such as Jasim Ali, to care for the neglected animals in wildlife parks backed by the government.
Ali told CNN, “If someone buys a very expensive animal, he is boasting that he has enough money to get anything he wants.
“If he has a tamed wild animal like a lion, he is trying to show off that he is brave. But this is not courage; this is animal rights abuse.”
The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, has estimated in the past that the illegal wildlife trade industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s been reported that tiger cubs can cost $3,000 and a rare white lion can sell for around $50,000 on the black market.
READ: Lions, Tigers become problem pets in the Gulf
The UAE has a history of entertaining guests with exotic animals.
In 2012, Ski Dubai – the indoor ski slope housed at Mall of the Emirates – welcomed a colony of King and Gentoo penguins. In 2008, Atlantis, The Palm hotel courted controversy from animal rights groups when it hosted a whale shark in its in-built aquarium.
CNN’s Sarah Sirgany, Heba Moussa and Karen Smith contributed to this report.