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Fri 19 Aug 2011 11:15 AM

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New warning issued over UAE's desire for exotic animals

AED50,000 fines, six month jail sentences for residents caught selling, owning endangered species

New warning issued over UAE's desire for exotic animals
The baby leopards found in a suitcase at Bangkok Airport, destined for Dubai (Freeland Foundation)

UAE residents have been warned they face a fine of up to AED50,000 and six months in jail if they flout laws on selling and owning endangered species.

The warning from the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) comes just weeks after a UAE man was arrested at Bangkok International Airport after his suitcases were found to be filled with endangered animals.

The animals, which included baby leopards, panthers, a bear and monkeys, had been drugged and were bound for Dubai, anti-trafficking group FREELAND Foundation said on its website in May.

That case followed media reports citing a tiger was spotted leaning out of the passenger car window of a blacked-out Dubai vehicle as it drove past the Mall of the Emirates.

Abdulrab Al Hemari, deputy manager, CITES Scientific Authority at EAD, said: "Unfortunately, keeping exotic animals in the UAE has become something of a status symbol. The solution to this issue is not only through enforcement of the law but through education.

"People need to understand the consequences of buying wildlife illegally. For every cheetah cub or baby monkey, there is normally a protective mother which has been cruelly slaughtered."

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary general of EAD, added: "The UAE is a nation of animal lovers. Certain species are intrinsically linked to our natural heritage and this is something of which we should be rightfully proud.

"However, we need to understand that there are clear laws in place about how one can own wild and endangered animals and in what circumstances, for the sake of the animal, its human handler and the broader community too."

The UAE signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which is a voluntary international agreement, in 1990.

CITES is aimed at protecting species of animals and plants that are endangered by trade.

According to the report submitted to CITES in 2010, illegally-imported or owned animals captured or surrendered in Abu Dhabi included 38 Houbara Bustards, 65 falcons, 128 tortoises, five monkeys, five bush babies and a Silvery Baboon.

In June, CITES asked the UAE to explain an alarming surge in incidents involving exotic animals.

Globally, the world wildlife trade is estimated to represent an estimated $10 billion industry.

It is thought to be the second largest factor in decline of biodiversity, after habitat destruction or loss.