The United Arab Emirates has outlawed the ownership of wild animals as pets ― ending a favored pastime of some wealthy Emirati, who are fond of posting snapshots of their lions, tigers and cheetahs online.
The new law that was signed last month will ban the trade and ownership of wild or exotic pets for any entity other than zoos, wildlife parks, circuses and breeding or research centers, the Gulf News reported on Tuesday. Anyone found violating the legislation could face jail time and fines up to $136,000.
Several high-profile social media accounts have gone viral in recent years that show Emiratis posing and playing with various wild animals, often big cats. The accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers and often feature threatened species posing on top of luxury cars.
Another video of five tigers wading through the ocean near a popular hotel in downtown Dubai also went viral in October.
But conservations have long warned that many of the animals seen on social media come from black market sources and are often illegally smuggled out of their native countries.
Cheetah populations have plummeted in the past few decades, but the animals are highly prized in the Gulf states and often purchased as cubs for $10,000 or more. A 2014 report linked declining numbers of the big cat directly to the rising trade in luxury pets. “Many of these cheetahs die on the way from Africa to the UAE,” it noted.
There are now just 7,100 of the animals left in the wild.
In September, CITES, the body that monitors and regulates the trade in wildlife, released new recommendations to track confiscation numbers of live cheetahs and monitor social media postings of the animals.
While the move should end much of the trade in big cats, some conservation groups are cautiously optimistic.
The new legislation also affects more domesticated animals. Dogs will be required to have permits and remain on leashes while in public. Violating that statute could result in a $27,000 fine.