Rabat - The trafficking of wild animals to the Middle East has been thriving in recent years, despite the fact the animals are already critically endangered.
Rabat – The trafficking of wild animals to the Middle East has been thriving in recent years, despite the fact the animals are already critically endangered.
The United Arab Emirates is considered a major intersection for trafficking animals and their products due to close proximity to Asia and Africa.
Animals such as big cats, primates, and exotic birds are being purchased illegally by people in hopes of flaunting their wealth. Elephants and rhinos are being poached for their ivory.
Animal trafficking is the world’s fourth-largest criminal enterprise cashing in at over MAD 200 billion, 26 percent higher than what the UN Environment-Interpol estimated.
In 2016, just over 7,000 cheetahs were left in the wild. According to USA Today, the population of cheetahs in Zimbabwe declined from 1,200 to about 170 in only 16 years. The Asiatic cheetah, which is found only in Iran, has a population of less than 50 in the wild.
The African lion population has declined 43 percent in the past 20 years. Just under 4,000 tigers remain in the wild today. There are an estimated 450,000 to 700,000 African elephants and 35,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left in the wild.
Earlier this year, the last male northern white rhino died due to old age, but scientists managed to preserve his genetic material in hopes of artificially inseminating the last two female northern white rhinos.
The other five species of white rhinos are also at low numbers. The Javan rhino, native to a national park in Indonesia, is considered one of the most endangered species in the world, with only about 60 animals remaining. The Sumatran rhino, another native to Indonesia, has numbers below 80.
Black rhinos, greater one-horned rhinos, and southern white rhinos have growing numbers, but still have a low population.
Monkeys and great apes are also being trafficked and sold to entertainment and tourist industries, inhumane zoos, and to people seeking to buy them for status symbols.
From 2005 to 2013, Stolen Apes, a program under the United Nations Environmental Program, reported that 22,218 great apes had been killed, stolen, or had died while in captivity. Every year, almost 3,000 great apes are lost from the wild.
How does this happen?
In 2014, the International Fund for Animal Welfare found 120 online advertisements in the UAE for illegally trafficked animals. Other nearby nations such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan have also had posts selling these animals, but none to the extent of the UAE.
In an interview with The National, Patricia Tricorache of the International Cheetah Conservation Fund stated there are 50 social media accounts for trading illegal animals in the UAE and estimated an average of 250 cheetahs for sale each year.
However, traders have become more wary of public selling, and Tricorache estimates about 300 cheetahs are stolen from Somalia every year. The organization has investigated the problem by questioning village people involved in the trade, who say at the height of the trading period about 100 cheetahs were smuggled a month to the Middle East.
Sad fates for stolen animals
Once purchased by their owners, many animals are treated cruelly and forced to undergo procedures such as being declawed and having their teeth removed. Removing claws and teeth alters the animals’ gaits and can cause chronic pain.
Big cats require an expansive diet. Many of the owners feed the animals raw chicken without knowing the nutritional needs of their animals to grow and survive. The animals can become malnourished, paralyzed, and have an undeveloped nervous system.
Raised in captivity, animals do not grow up learning how to hunt or to have instincts. Owners will sometimes give their pets a live animal to eat, but the potential food ends up suffering because the pet will only attack and not kill the animal.
Once owners realize a wild animal is too much to handle, they often turn the animals to zoos, veterinarians, or organizations as part of an amnesty. In an interview with the Middle Eastern Eye, a foreman from the Dubai Zoo says they will receive 10 “donations” of animals a month. A number of those belong to endangered species.
However, some of these big cats do not even have a chance to live in a zoo. Many zoos are already at capacity. If the animals do not have claws or teeth, they can not be put with other animals of their kind because they would be vulnerable. The animals are also not able to reproduce if they are domesticated, and therefore have no other fate but to be put down.
Owners also give up monkeys, apes, and birds once they become tired of them. A member of the Dubai Safari stated to The National that about 20 monkeys had been turned in due to an amnesty program. After captivity, they have more social and behavioral problems than other animals. One baboon came into the program wearing children clothes.
Owners bring exotic birds to the Dubai Safari park after they realize the birds are too loud and can bite. The birds often have bad health problems and at least 70 percent of the birds in the park have chlamydia.
Some veterinarians in these areas receive dead endangered animals from owners due to their lack of knowledge and resources.
What is being done now
The UN passed a resolution in 2015 that strengthened national measures and enhanced regional and global responses to the illegal trafficking of wildlife in the UAE.
In 2016, the president of the UAE passed Federal Law 22 to protect animals and people. It stated that only zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, and research centers are allowed to keep wild animals such as big cats, primates, ostriches, seagulls, spiders, and scorpions.
Although the trade of wild animals and their products has been illegal many years in the UAE, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) teamed up to eradicate the illegal trade of endangered species.
However, since the trading of animals crosses jurisdictions, there needs to be international cooperation in order to save these animals from ill-treatment.
Even though the government has decided to crackdown on the issue, the illegal trade of animals and their byproducts continue to exist. On July 4, almost 2,000 pieces of ivory were confiscated at the Dubai International Airport.
Animals such as cheetahs are still being posted for sale on Instagram. The TRA is currently working to surveil illegal ads.
Companies such as Facebook and Instagram provide a way for users to report a post if there are any signs of animal trafficking. Google also has specific policies that state advertisements for endangered or extinct animals are prohibited and also allow a feature for users to report such advertisements.
By Maria Kuiper