Lions, tigers become problem pets in the Gulf
Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — On a dusty day in the northern-most Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, 40-year-old Jasim Ali wrestles playfully with his four-legged friend Teymour over a chew toy. But Teymour is not a dog — he’s a fully-grown African lion.
“There is a special language, I can say, between him and I,” said Ali.
Ali rescued Teymour from a farm where, he says, he was a neglected pet.
“I treated him differently than how he had been treated before. So, a love story began between us. He would only eat if he saw me there. If I wasn’t there, you would feel he was upset. He would wait for me.”
With an African lion, love can be tough. Ali said he’s been bitten several times — always during play — and although he trusts Teymour implicitly, he always treats him with caution and respect. Ali’s main concern during playtime is that one of Teymour’s claws may accidentally come out. “He could tear my flesh,” he said.
Ali manages the Ras Al Khaimah Wildlife Park, set up a few years ago under the patronage of Sheikh Taleb bin Saqr Al Qasimi, one of the Ras Al Khaimah’s royals. He has been adopting neglected and mistreated animals for more than 15 years.
Many of those animals, including Teymour, are endangered or exotic, and were initially bought on the black market.
Owning an endangered animal as a pet is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, a signatory of the Convention on the Illegal Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). However, the trade in endangered wildlife remains a problem in the Gulf, where owning expensive exotic pets, especially big cats, is the ultimate status symbol. A rare white lion sells for around $50,000 on the black market, Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center.
None of the pet owners we approached would speak on the record about illegally purchasing exotic animals, but many amateur videos uploaded online attest to their popularity among young men in the Gulf.
In one YouTube clip that was widely viewed in the region, a man frightens his friend by chasing him around the living room with a chained lioness. Another clip shows a group of men walking a cheetah on a leash in an indoor location. There’s even a man trying to ride a fully grown lion.
It is all about bragging rights for the men buying these animals, says Ali.
“If someone buys a very expensive animal, he is boasting that he has enough money to get anything he wants,” he said. “If he has a tamed wild animal like a lion, he is trying to show off that he is brave. But this is not courage; this is animal rights abuse.”
It has largely fallen on private individuals like Ali, backed by the government, to care for neglected illegally obtained animals.
If someone buys a very expensive animal, he is boasting that he has enough money to get anything he wants
Jasim Ali, Ras Al Khaimah Wildlife Park
More than 200 illegal animals in the United Arab Emirates were confiscated alive by the authorities in 2010, according to CITES. Most big cats are sent to the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center, which is privately funded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahayan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.
The large cages harbor a staggering variety of rare animals — white lions, white tigers, black jaguars, cheetahs, baboons and wolves — to name a few.
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Ayesha Kelaif shoulders the burden of smaller animals.
The the petite mother of four cares for almost 300 animals as varied as iguanas, alpacas, foxes, monkeys and pheasants in her residential villa that doubles up as the Dubai Animal Rescue Center. All the animals were abandoned or rescued and some are exotic and endangered.
Her closest friend, an endangered South American macaw named Rio, was abandoned in a cardboard box in a parking lot. Rio sits perched on her shoulder throughout the interview, pecking at the microphone.
Relying on help from volunteers, Kelaif spends most of her income taking care of the animals. The recently widowed government employee spends a hefty $10,000 per month to cover everything from veterinary costs to electricity for 19 air-conditioning units for the animal cages.
The passion and the love that you get from them is amazing
Ayesha Kelaif, Dubai Animal Rescue Center
“We don’t save anything. I don’t have any retirement fund; it’s all for the animals,” said Kelaif. She added that she carries financial burden because the reward is priceless. “The passion and the love that you get from (the animals) is amazing and if there’s anything I can do to help animals you can’t put a price on it.”
Recently granted land by the Dubai government, Kelaif cannot afford to build the infrastructure for the rescue center that she hopes will one day be her legacy.
Her passion for animals goes back to her childhood. Both her parents died of cancer when she was nine and her siblings were split up. Kelaif says animals helped her cope.
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“I got so much love from these guys, they used to make me so happy, I used to just go sit in the alleyways and just feed a dog or touch a cat and I used to be so happy,” she said.
Kelaif said people buy exotic animals without understanding the unique needs they have and the level of responsibility involved. People who buy baby lion and tiger cubs can no longer take care of them when they get larger and start showing violent tendencies. It’s not just locals — many expatriate families leave their pets behind when the leave the country.
Both Kelaif and Ali realize they are in a legal gray area when it comes to the exotic animals they shelter. Any endangered animal needs appropriate paperwork from CITES. Animals that have been smuggled into the country, even if rescued, technically remain illegal by international standards despite having permissions from local authorities.
But these animal lovers say paperwork will not stop them from doing the right thing.
Ali said he has reached out to animal rights groups and wants their help setting up a wildlife reserve in Ras Al Khaimah, since the animals’ legal limbo makes repatriation difficult. He says he is surprised that recent media attention, instead of bringing him assistance, has brought him criticism from some.
“My wish is that, instead of criticizing me, these people would offer me help. I haven’t done anything wrong; I’ve protected these animals and created a sanctuary for them. I’m trying to get them to appropriate wildlife reserves.”
Big Cat Rescue Note: Posing with dangerous wild animals, such as the image in this article, just fuels the abuse. No matter how much your lips are saying, “These animals don’t make good pets,” people will try to make pets of them if they see images of people in contact with animals that would otherwise eat them. The first step to legitimacy for any wildlife rescue organization is to walk the talk and not have physical contact with the magnificent animals they shelter.
In the It-Doesn’t-Get-Any-Weirder-Than-This Department…
A Northern California hiker says he is lucky to be alive after he was attacked by a mountain lion — and saved by a bear, the Paradise Post reports.
Robert Biggs, 69, of Paradise, tells his hometown paper that he had stumbled upon a mother bear, a yearling and a newborn cub while hiking Monday above Whiskey Flats.
He says he watched the bears from about 40 feet, then turned to slip away when a mountain lion pounced, grabbing his backpack with all four paws.
Biggs tells the Post’s Trevor Warner that he wrestled the cat, stabbed it with a rock pick, but to no avail — until the mother bear jumped in and tore the lion’s grip from the backpack.
After a 15-second battle, Biggs tells the newspaper, the cat ran off, and the bear ambled away. “They’re pretty territorial,” he says of the bears.
Biggs says the lion had likely been stalking the newborn when Biggs appeared.
He suffered bite marks, scratches and bruises to his arm, but was otherwise uninjured, the Post says.
Cha Cha, a 16-year-old male lion at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, has died, the zoo announced Wednesday in a news release.
According to the Press Release:
Iowa’s Blank Park Zoo announced today the passing of the male lion Cha Cha. The lion was diagnosed this week with inoperable liver cancer and was humanely euthanized because his quality of life continued to decline. He was 16 years old.
“He brought a piece of the wild to Des Moines that we all could admire,” said Bonnie VanEllen, animal keeper. “He enjoyed entertaining those who admired him through training demonstrations.”
“Cha Cha was one of the most visible animals at Blank Park Zoo and was an ambassador to show the public about the need for conservation of all animals,” said Mark Vukovich, CEO of Blank Park Zoo.
According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, wild lion populations are down significantly; only 30,000 remain. In the wild, male lions typically live 12 years.
Cha Cha was born in 1996 and came to Blank Park Zoo in 1999 when the Zoo opened the Tom & Jo Ghrist Great Cats exhibit.
In 2006, Cha Cha was one of the lions that the Chicago Field Museum studied to help determine that thicker manes in male lions played a role in sexual attraction in female lions. Lions that live in northern zoos tend to have thicker manes because of the colder climate. As a result, zoo officials proclaimed Cha Cha “one of the sexiest males alive.”
The search will begin for another male lion to come to Blank Park Zoo; however this is a complicated process that will take time.
Memorial contributions can be made to Blank Park Zoo Foundation at www.blankparkzoo.com. The Zoo is also asking the public to share their favorite stories, pictures and videos of Cha Cha on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/blankparkzoo.
Blank Park Zoo wishes to thank Loving Rest Pet Cemetery for their cremation services.
CEOs, industry and business leaders, and President Zoellick hope to broaden coalition
The Roundtable was held in Singapore
February, 2012 – Singapore – World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick is discussing the tiger crisis and enlisting the active engagement of industry and the private sector to protect biodiversity in a series of private meetings with CEOs and other industry and business leaders. This is part of the Global Tiger Initiative’s strategy to reach out to a new set of stakeholders that would complement and fundamentally strengthen the existing circle of partners.
President of the World Bank Group,
Robert B. Zoellick, with other Bank officials
The first round table of CEOs was held in Singapore on February 25, where eleven influential executives joined Zoellick, senior management from the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and the Global Tiger Initiative. CEOs from major corporations and regional heads of finance, infrastructure, education, and transport companies brainstormed how they could come together to address threats to biodiversity and set a good example of environmental responsibility by supporting tiger conservation. A second round table, with the Confederation of Indian Industry, is planned in New Delhi at the end of March.
President Zoellick said the World Bank Group, which together with partners such as the Global Environment Facility and the Smithsonian Institution founded the Global Tiger Initiative in 2008, could act as a “connector” to link industry with environmental groups and other agencies seeking to protect tigers and their natural habitats: “Supporting tiger conservation is part of the global development challenge and with the pace of development in the Asia Pacific region, enlisting the support of business and industry fills in the missing piece in the campaign to protect tigers and strengthen biodiversity conservation across the region.”
CEOs spoke of changing attitudes
towards conservation and biodiversity
In Singapore, the chief executives suggested that attitudes about the importance of wildlife and biodiversity in Asia are changing. Some of the executives sensed that while wildlife crime was once considered a minor offense, people are beginning to recognize its seriousness and to call for tougher law enforcement and penalties. They also emphasized a need to leverage the energy of the younger generation and Asia’s new “haves” to motivate them to quell demand for wildlife-based products by appealing to their pro-environment, pro-conservation instincts.
Keshav Varma, Program Director of the Global Tiger Initiative, updated progress on GTI and how the flagship initiative is helping mainstream conservation into development policies across the tiger range. He appealed to the corporate leaders to apply innovative business models from the private sector to enhance and professionalize management of national parks and other protected areas in the tiger range countries. During the series of dialogues with industry and business, the GTI is emphasizing the importance of careful planning for infrastructure and natural resource projects in and around critical wildlife habitats and adoption of principles of Smart Green Infrastructure.
President Zoellick and the GTI have built solid partnerships with the public sector and civil society since GTI launched in 2008. With the round tables in Singapore, New Delhi, and beyond, they are now seeking to build a global base of private-sector support for tiger conservation by fostering regional business councils to flag areas of cooperation on wildlife and tiger conservation and advise on how industry can help to raise conservation awareness among other private-sector organizations and the public.
Among those attending the Singapore meeting were Mahesh Babu, Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS); Gautam Banerjee, Executive Chairman at PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore; Ben Chan, Executive Director of Khazanah Nasional of Malaysia; Cheah Sui Ling, CEO, BNP Paribas Securities Singapore; Goh Choon Pong, CEO of Singapore Airlines; Dilip Khatau, Chairman of the Corbett Foundation; Colin Low, Chairman of Singapore Investment Development Corporation; and Ibu Shanti Poesposoetjipto, CEO of PT Samudera Indonesia, a major shipping company. Representatives of global law and education firms, as well as the Smithsonian were also present.
Press Release: Business Leaders Join World Bank in Talks to Protect Asia’s Wild Tigers
Leopards Don't Belong in Cages
Officials from Ohio zoos and humane societies have told a state Senate panel they support a bill that would ban new ownership of exotic animals but question some of its provisions.
Media outlets report that a main point of contention at the Wednesday hearing was an exemption for members of a zoological association that one official described as an advocacy group for private animal owners. Some officials also questioned less restrictive regulations for snakes and an exception made for a Massillon high school’s tiger cub mascot.
The bill came in response to the October release outside Zanesville of dozens of pets by their owner, who then killed himself. Most of the animals, including bears, lions and endangered Bengal tigers, were killed by law enforcement seeking to protect the public.
Cheetah Attacks Two Visitors at Eagle Heights Zoo
AL AIN // The pet cheetah caught last week after escaping its abusive owners died only a few hours later, it was confirmed yesterday.
Dr Majid Al Qassimi, the deputy chief veterinarian at the Al Ain Zoo, said the reasons for the cheetah’s death had not been confirmed but it was found “stressed” and severely malnourished.
Dr Al Qassimi said that after escaping from its cage in a private villa, it ate several pets belonging to its owner’s Emirati neighbours.
The zoo is awaiting results of a post-mortem examination.
Meanwhile, the second baboon in a week has been found roaming the wilds of the Garden City.
The zoo last Wednesday received a call about an illegally kept baboon that was wandering around Al Masoudi. The female olive baboon jumped from roof to roof, eluding zookeepers before being caught the next morning.
Yesterday another was found roaming Al Ain, but on the other side of town. This one was caught by pest control workers.
Dr Al Qassimi said the cheetah’s death was “quite surprising”, as there had been no sign of severe illness. But he said cheetahs were known to be susceptible to stress.
The animal had been caught with a net, without tranquillisers, then taken to the zoo in a cage. At first it appeared “normal and content”, but it died soon after.
Dr Al Qassimi said it was not the zoo’s job to identify the owner who, if caught, could face court action.
He blamed a lack of awareness and education for the illegal habit of keeping exotic animals.
“You cannot keep the animal like that properly,” Dr Al Qassimi said. “You do not have the facilities to. It’s a real shame when it happens because it is a compound issue, not a single one.”
He suggested owners wanted to be seen as unique – “everyone has a dog or a cat, but I have a cheetah”.
“People don’t understand the consequences of such decisions,” Dr Al Qassimi said. “It’s a cute cheetah cub now, but in a year you would have a full-grown carnivore at hand, too large to control.”
He said the owners also did not realise how sellers obtained their animals.
“They don’t understand the part of poaching – illegal work in other countries,” he said. “Then it has to travel to you, then there are welfare issues, and then there are no official channels so there is the matter of diseases.
“And when it outgrows its cuteness and becomes a full-size animal, a primate or carnivore – it needs a lot of food.”
A cheetah will eat at least a whole chicken for lunch, as well as dietary supplements that are available only at zoos.
And if not fed properly, their hunting instinct could kick in, said Dr Al Qassimi, “which could be very dangerous if children are around”.
“Really, the solution is raising public awareness on danger of such activity,” he said.
“Instead of paying Dh4,000 for a cub, spend a week on safari. The experience would be much better than keeping them as pets.”