UAE in spotlight over animal smuggling, says CITES

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The baby leopards found in a suitcase at Bangkok Airport, destined for Dubai (Freeland Foundation)

The baby leopards found in a suitcase at Bangkok Airport, destined for Dubai (Freeland Foundation)

CITES, a leading agency to prohibit the trafficking of wild animals, has asked the UAE to explain an alarming surge in incidents involving exotic animals, Arabian Business has learned.

Events including the discovery of a nine-month old cheetah roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi, and sightings of a tiger leaning from the window of a blacked-out vehicle in Dubai have raised fears the Gulf state is seeing a surge in trafficking.

The 175-nation Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to curb the trafficking of threatened animals, said it may take action against the UAE. The Gulf state became a member in 1990.

“The CITES secretariat has contacted the management authority of the UAE and asked for its comments regarding a number of news items that suggest there is an illegal trade in live animals,” spokesperson Jonathan Barzdo said in a statement.

It’s not the first time the UAE has fallen foul of CITES regulations. The Gulf country was suspended in 2001 over its part in illegal trading, but reinstated the following year.

Possible penalties include the UAE’s suspension from the Convention or a recommendation to member nations to ban related trade with the Gulf state.

“When problems arose ten years ago, the government took serious action to correct them,” Barzdo said.

Animal trafficking is thought to be the third most lucrative illegal industry after drugs and arms dealing, worth around $10-20bn globally.

The UAE, a global trade hub, is a known hotspot for contraband due to a high demand for exotic pets, which are seen as symbols of power. Also making the UAE an attractive market, say local charities are good flight and shipping connections, which allow poachers to re-export the trafficked animals to other GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.

A 36-year-old Emirati man was arrested last month at a Thailand airport for trying to smuggle baby leopards, panthers, monkeys and a bear in his luggage to Dubai. Noor Mahmood was charged with smuggling endangered species and released on a $6,600 bail, but managed to flee Bangkok on a May 23 flight to the UAE, immigration police said Tuesday.

Animal rights activists have condemned the practice of keeping exotic animals as pets as a serious threat to endangered species and called for tougher penalties to deter would-be smugglers.

“Illegal trade of endangered wildlife is a serious threat and major contributor to the extinction of animals and plants in the wild,” said Lisa Perry, programme director for The Emirates Wildlife Society, which works closely with the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Collecting exotic and often endangered species is considered by some a luxury hobby, making the illegal trade of those species a very profitable business.”

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