New law bans wealthy UAE residents from keeping exotic animals as pets

Wealthy UAE residents pose with animals. Source: Facebook

Animal rights activists have welcomed a decision by the government of the United Arab Emirates, an oil rich nation in the Middle East, to implement a ban on residents keeping exotic animals as pets.

The law, which came into effect immediately after it was announced earlier in 2017, issues harsh penalties for any UAE residents that don’t comply with it. These include fines of almost US$140,000 and up to six months in jail.

The UAE has been a hotspot for wealthy citizens owning exotic animals, including cheetahs, tigers and lions. For many years, animal welfare groups have lobbied for the government to restrict private ownership of exotic animals, citing the growing cases of abuse and neglect by many owners.

Owning a rare animal such as a lion is seen as a status symbol in a nation where excess is all too common. While purchasing endangered species, such as the rare white lion, has been against the law for some time, it hasn’t stopped wealthy buyers shelling out over US$50,000 to acquire them.

Up until now, there has been no restriction on buying non-endangered exotic animals, and wealthy Emirati have been known to have extensive collections of cheetahs, tigers and lions kept in cages within their compounds. Posts to social media show the animals being kept in cramped conditions and being paraded along with other status symbols, such as expensive sports cars and jewelry collections.

The authorities in the UAE have been doing their best to monitor the treatment of exotic animals in private control, and the data shows an alarming increase in the amount of animals that were found to be mistreated by their owners.

In 2015, over 250 animals were seized by animal cruelty inspectors after they responded to tip-offs about their conditions. Animal groups fear this number represents just a fraction of the total number that are being mistreated in the country. Videos surfacing on YouTube have shown wealthy owners riding lions around their mansions and cheetahs kept in cages that they can barely squeeze into.

The issue goes right to the top of UAE society, with Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum – the Crown Prince of Dubai – himself owning a lion and regularly posting photos of it on social media.

In addition to being abused by some owners, others have found the duty of keeping these exotic animals to be too much of a burden and have chosen to release them into the wild. Unsurprisingly, the desert terrain of the UAE is unsuitable for most of these animals, and they rarely survive for long in the wild.

With the new law banning private ownership of exotic animals, the animals that are rescued will be first cared for at local wildlife reserves, before ultimately being sent home to their natural habitats. It’s a big project that requires a lot of resources, but one that will ultimately save hundreds of animals from a life of mistreatment.

Speaking about the new law, the leader of an animal welfare group based in Dubai told local media that: “We welcome and congratulate the UAE Government in taking this important initiative, which we wish to be a milestone for the rest of the countries, not just in the region, but also in the world.”

The new laws also address measures targeted at traditional pets, and include a requirement that dog owners apply for permits and keep their animals on a leash in public.