Wildlife Trade in the UAE: Just Say NO To Exotic Pets!
By Stefanie Peterson
A cheetah on a leash and a tiger riding in the front seat of a car have both been seen and photographed in Dubai. Images such as these have gone viral, and they depict the current desire of some to own the most exotic items money can buy. However, while exotic animals are majestic and beautiful creatures to observe, they certainly do not make good pets, and they pose a great risk to people's safety. In May of 2011, a cheetah was found roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi after it had broken its chain and escaped from a villa.
Recently, Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) came to both the Al Ain Colleges' campuses to talk about endangered species and the hazards of owning exotic pets.
Dr. Elsayed is the Middle East Regional Director for the IFAW in the Middle East, and he has been training government officials responsible for implementing animal welfare and preservation legislations. Working jointly with the IFAW's Wildlife Trade Program staff, Dr. Elsayed organized several training sessions for the Prevention of Illegal Wildlife Trade (Wildlife Law Enforcement) in various Arab-speaking countries, while striving to increase the capability to fight the trade within the region.
"I joined IFAW five years ago," he says. "We have many programs regarding animal welfare and preservation. We have programs about rescuing exotic animals from being sold or traded."
The message that Dr. Elsayed is trying to spread throughout the regions is: "Any wild animal is dangerous. There is no such thing as a tame carnivore." In addition to the illegal trade workshops and the training that IFAW and other individuals are providing to government agencies, Dr. Elsayed has been instrumental in starting two different campaigns for the public. The first is Animal Action Education for schoolchildren and conservation campaigns throughout the Middle East, as well as in North Africa. The second, the Think Twice campaign is focused on tourism and educating tourists about the damage that is caused by wildlife souvenir trading.
Many efforts to educate government officials and the public are being made throughout the UAE, to improve the state of wildlife trade through the region and surrounding countries. In the five years that Dr. Elsayed has been working to eliminate the illegal trading, he has seen many positive changes that give hope to IFAW's cause.
"The positive changes I'm seeing in wildlife trade have been in other nations better controlling illegal trading. They are monitoring and regulating wildlife trade. Also, the UAE adopted regulations regarding animal welfare in 2007. I can say the UAE is a leader in adopting the regulations for animal welfare and preservation. This is apart from really implementing the law and controlling the wildlife trade. The government was a pioneer in the region to adopt such regulations. Wildlife as pets should be reduced."
Has the IFAW cause to stop illegal wildlife trading been well received? "Yes, especially in regards to making the wildlife preservation legal state training, which trains customs officers and police officers to implement these laws," explains Dr. Elsayed.
"Animals are imported a couple of ways into the country, some with proper documents. We are hoping these dangerous animals will stop being imported for personal use or even for breeding. Others are being smuggled into the country. We always believe that customs is doing their job and doing good work. These are the main two parts of importing exotic animals."
Wildlife trade is buying or selling live exotic animals, possibly even endangered species, or selling the ivory or pelts of endangered animals. It takes more than one country to regulate and monitor illegal trading. Through an increased public awareness, the hope is that those wildlife traders will have no interested buyers to sustain trading.
So what happens to a wild "pet" that an owner realizes is dangerous, too much responsibility, or too much trouble?
"Anyone that may want to surrender their exotic animal can deliver it to the Al Ain Zoo, Dubai Zoo, or any animal conservation. This is starting to happen. People may decide not to take care of the animal anymore, whether it is a financial burden or a danger, and so after a while they deliver it to any zoo or conservation."
The more education the public receives about wildlife trade, the better equipped the community and government will be to fight illegal trading. It comes down to a simple equation of supply and demand: without customers to buy the wildlife, traders are forced to earn income through other avenues. The Emirates will still have all its luxury and lavish living that make the UAE experience so extravagant, but perhaps it can also have keen supporters for animal welfare and stopping the trade of illegal wildlife.