Exotic. Illegal. Blatant.
If it’s an exotic animal, rest assured it should not be in your home. Yet, trade in exotic animals is rampant, and shamelessly blatant, in this part of the world.
My father tells this story often. A Qatari friend accompanied him to the Department of Animal Resources to approve a permit for our (small, harmless, domestic) cat. There, they were assisted by a particularly helpful employee. As they were leaving, the man asked: Is there anything else I can help you with, anything at all? My dad’s friend smiled sheepishly, then said: Could you tell me how to get an import permit for an elephant?
Everyone’s seen the picture of the dude in the LandCruiser with a cheetah hanging out the passenger side. Or heard about the increasing numbers of lions and tigers living in private villas and compounds. Last year, satirical paper The Pan-Arabia Enquirer ran a story about how big cats are so common in the Middle East they are considered passé, and blue whales are now being coveted, particularly for their ‘world’s biggest’ status. Jokes aside, the trade in animals is, in fact, a serious business. Animal trafficking is thought to be the third most lucrative illegal industry in the world–after drugs and arms–estimated to be worth between $10-$20 billion
The Doha Zoo is reportedly going to be transformed into a safari park, with nearly $55 million spent to bring the facility up to international standards.
CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments designed to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Qatar acceded to the CITES treaty in 2001, however trade in exotic animals continues. And while keeping dangerous animals at home is reportedly a more severe offence than keeping unlicensed arms, there appears to be little to no enforcement of these laws.
Neighbouring UAE–which is known to be a hub for trade in exotic and endangered animals–has fallen foul of CITES on more than one occasion, and was even suspended from the treaty in 2001. Last year, the UAE’s Environment Ministry was reportedly drafting a law to prevent the practice of private individuals owning exotic animals as pets. And though Qatar seems to have slipped beneath the radar for now, it’s unlikely to be able to stay there for long.
“We never treat primates.” – Dr Paul Hensen, Qatar Veterinary Centre
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5 REASONS WHY WILD ANIMALS SHOULDN’T BE KEPT AS PETS:
Endangerment/Extinction of Species:
Keeping wild/exotic animals in captivity not only threatens the existence of individual species but also upsets the balance of the ecosystem in from which they are taken. Many big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and cheetahs are currently threatened with extinction.
Cruel and Inhumane:
Wild animals suffer trauma, extreme stress, malnutrition, isolation and behavioural disorders when kept in captivity and confined to small spaces. Many owners and breeders choose to remove the teeth and claws of wild animals to protect themselves against injury. These cruel practices can later lead to infection or inability for the animal to carry out natural activities.
Health and Safety Risks:
Think Contagion. Many wild animals carry zoonotic diseases, i.e. illnesses that can be transferred from animals to humans like Rabies, Salmonella, SARS and Brucellosis. Wild animals also harbour internal and external parasites that can be lethal to humans, especially infants and young children.
Dangerous and Unpredictable Behaviour:
It takes centuries of careful, selective breeding to domesticate an animal to coexist with humans in a household setting. Wild animals have naturally evolved to live independently of human care and interaction, and have unique, complex and little-understood needs. When these needs are not met, the animal experiences severe stress, which can result in a return to its natural instincts including attacking, injuring and even killing people and other animals.
Difficult to Rehabilitate:
Animals that have become accustomed to human contact may lose their natural ability to survive in the wild, including hunting or foraging for their own food, interacting with the group, and protecting themselves against danger. Animals that have been too habituated to humans can no longer survive in the wild, and finding another home for them can be almost impossible with zoos increasingly refusing to take them in and sanctuaries being strapped for cash and stretched for space.
Souq of shame
In Qatar, classifieds for wild exotics like ocelots, cheetahs, servals, parrots, monkeys, pythons and alligators can be found on the internet with ease. On a recent reconnaissance mission to the animal souq I found African grey parrots, iridescent green iguanas, and cages crammed with higgeldy-piggeldy piles of Australian sugar gliders (which a grinning shopkeeper assured me were “flying squirrels from Holland, Madam!”). Both the Qatar Animal Welfare Society and Qatar Veterinary Center have received calls and visits from people with exotic and endangered animals like lions, cheetahs, baboons, snakes and sea turtles, but even licensed vets are not allowed to treat animals without a CITES permit. Domestic animal veterinarians often do not have the required expertise to treat or rehabilitate exotic animals. “We never treat primates,” says Dr Paul Hensen of QVC, owing to the easy exchange of disease-causing organisms between humans and their genetically-related evolutionary ancestors.
While collecting exotic animals is still a popular luxury hobby for the status-conscious, there are a few welcome signs that change is afoot. The Doha Zoo is reportedly going to be transformed into a safari park, with the Government spending nearly $55 million to bring the facility up to international standards. Last year, the royal family also gifted three lion cubs to the Denver Zoo so they could receive better care. The Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation farm just outside Doha is a local and international success story having transitioned from a private animal collection to a full-fledged research and breeding center for threatened species in less than a decade. The centre now houses over 2000 animals of 90 different species, including the largest collection of the rare Spix’s Macaw, the most critically endangered parrot species in the world, believed to be totally extinct in the wild.
So if you know (or are) someone who’s just gotta have that lion, tiger or elephant cub, remind them that–like all babies – they grow up to be a lot less cuddly and a lot more unpredictable than they were when they were young. Still, if dogs, cats and budgies are a bit too commonplace for them, all is not lost.
The Philadelphia Zoo offers a nifty online test to match someone up with the perfect pet for their personality. Suggestions include hissing cockroaches and fire-bellied toads. Now if that doesn’t appeal to the status-conscious, I don’t know what will.