DUBAI // Scores of endangered lions, tigers and cheetahs are being advertised openly on a classified website.
The manager of the website says he sometimes receives complaints from the public, but says that as far as he knows, it is not illegal to advertise animals in this way.
Lions, tigers and cheetahs for sale on UAE website
Dubaimoon Souq has a long list of big cats available, with prices ranging from Dh18,000 for an adolescent lioness, to Dh45,000 for a tiger cub.
The manager of the website, a UAE national named Abdul Aziz, said he sometimes receives complaints from the public, but said that, as far as he knew, it was not illegal to advertise animals in this way.
“If this is not allowed to be sold, we need someone from the municipality or the police to come and tell us this,” he said. “Lots of people call us and say you can’t sell this or that, but how are we to know?”
The advertising of these animals appears to be a legal grey area, said Abdul Rab Al Hamiri, the assistant director of the UAE office of Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and deputy director of inspection and environmental compliance at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.
“There’s nothing mentioned in the law about advertising, what we deal with is the actual selling and buying of animals,” he said.
Mr Al Hamiri said that endangered animals kept without Cites permits could be confiscated, their owners fined Dh50,000 and jailed for six months.
“We don’t advise people to buy any wildlife, whether it’s a lion or a parrot. If they have to buy it, then they need to make sure it’s been imported legally and has a Cites permit,” he said.
In 2010, the UAE agency issued 22 permits for tigers and 37 for lions. Mr Al Hamiri said that those permits had been for zoos, breeding programmes or for scientific study.
“We’ve never issued a certificate for any of those big cats to be kept by private owners,” he said. “I’m not sure whether these adverts are true.”
The majority of owners who advertised the big cats on the Dubaimoon site said they had been sold quickly after the adverts were posted.
Fahad Abdulrahman, a UAE national from Dubai, sold a six-month-old female cheetah through the site. He said that he has a one-year-old male cheetah, called Alexander, who was not for sale. “It’s not difficult at all to keep them as pets,” he said. “My cheetah is friendly with everyone, not just me.”
He said that he was not concerned, personally, about being attacked by the animal. “He might attack the kids, because anything smaller than him he might attack,” said Mr Abdulrahman. “But for something big, like us, no he won’t attack. I would be more worried with a lion or a tiger, but not a cheetah.”
He said that he kept the animal in a cage inside his house. “I take him to run in the desert sometimes,” he said. “I don’t keep him always to be bored in the cage.”
He said that eventually he was hoping to move the animal to a specially designed farm.
Adil Al Tayeb El Badri, head of the animal welfare unit, veterinary services section of Dubai Municipality, said it was illegal to keep game animals in residential areas. “Even goats and sheep are not allowed to be in the house,” he said.
“We don’t know how many are kept in houses, because we only find out when there is a complaint,” he said. “As soon as we hear about it, we confiscate the animal and take it to Dubai Zoo.”
Among the animals advertised on the Dubaimoon website were two Bengal tiger cubs, a critically endangered species with a total population – in and out of captivity – of only 2,500.
Vickly Flynn, the spokeswoman for the UK charity Tiger Time, said that keeping tigers as pets was an international trend.
“There’s a qualified statistic that there are more tigers living in apartments in America then there are in the wild,” she said.
Other animal rights charities say that keeping wild animals as pets was both unsafe and cruel.
“Not only are they a danger to people, but in captivity, big cats and other wild animals are denied everything that is natural and important to them – companionship for one, not to mention the opportunity to run, climb, hunt, and establish their territory,” a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said.
Another man who listed cheetah cubs on the website said that the animals had been bred locally rather than imported into the country.
The Emirati, who declined to be named, said he was a Cites permit holder and had sold to a Cites permit holder. He stressed that the animals should always be treated with respect, and kept on specially designed farm facilities.
“At some level they can be tamed, but I always tell potential buyers to not forget the wild side of them,” he said. “You can’t just fool around with them.”