Rescue of lion cub in Beirut puts spotlight on illegal animal trade

BEIRUT: The recent rescue of a lion cub from a Downtown Beirut balcony highlights the growing need for regional protection of endangered animals, according to the director of Animals Lebanon, the nongovernmental organization which is now looking after the cub.

The 5-week old animal had been smuggled into Lebanon illegally, and will soon be sent to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa.

The animal was probably brought in from Syria, explained Jason Mier, the executive director of Animals Lebanon, who said he had personally visited many private zoos in Syria which sell the big cats to importers in the region.

Lana al-Khalil, the NGO’s president said that “Animals Lebanon has uncovered zoos in Syria offering newborn lion cubs for $350 each, and workers offered to advise on how best to bring a lion to Lebanon.”

Someone recently even tried to sell the NGO a lion cub for $4,000, not realizing with whom they were speaking. She said, “One zoo owner in Lebanon reported bringing in eight lions from Syria and admitted that they all died within weeks as they were too young” to be separated from their mothers.

The popularity of lions as pets has “drastically increased” in Lebanon in recent years, added Khalil, who pointed out that, “Within the first couple months of life a lion becomes too large and strong to be kept in a house, only to end up locked in a backyard cage or sold to a private zoo.”

Other big cats, including a cheetah and African wildcats are known to be kept as pets in Lebanon, and Animals Lebanon has monitored around seven or eight Facebook pages whose owners openly display their pet lions.

While it is perhaps inevitable that such an animal might quickly become too big to be kept within a home, many people do not see a problem with keeping the animal in a cage in their backyard, or in a “private zoo,” Mier added.

The number of private zoos is increasing across the Middle East, Mier said, with no regional zoo association to monitor the menageries. The zoos are largely the preserve of wealthy individuals, who often buy exotic animals as status symbols, and have little concern for their welfare, Mier added.

“We are aware of four such private zoos which have opened in Lebanon since 2005,” Mier said, and all house animals which have been illegally imported into the country.

The concept of a “zoo” has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, Mier said. Where once they were simply private collections for wealthy or eccentric individuals, they have now become centers of education and conservation. For a zoo to become a member of the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums it must fulfill many qualifying criteria, and demonstrate that it is committed to both education and conservation.

No such private zoo in Lebanon would meet these criteria, Mier said. “If a zoo does not focus on these things then it just becomes a collection of animals and that is not enough.”

Lebanon has not yet joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and lions are a CITES Appendix II listed animal.

This recently rescued cub is an African lion. There are only 40,000 African lions in the wild today, and their population has decreased by at least 48 percent over the last 22 years, due to loss of habitat, hunting, poisoning and other factors.

“The Lebanese government has expressed its intention to have Lebanon join CITES, and we understand that this process is moving forward,” said Khalil. “There are currently 175 member countries, and we are hopeful that next year Lebanon will be number 176. We are able to help this lion because the owners are cooperative, but we must prevent these animals from ever entering Lebanon and ending up in these conditions and joining CITES can significantly help.”

“There are legal ways of importing animals into Lebanon,” Mier said, “and plenty of animals in Lebanon which are in genuine need of help.”

And luckily for this latest lion cub, he is receiving that help. The Lebanese Agriculture Ministry has already issued the required permits, and Animals Lebanon is currently awaiting an import permit from the South African authorities before the 6.5 kilo cub can be re-homed at the Drakenstein Lion Park near Cape Town. The park has over 50 acres of space, and around 30 lions. The cub will soon be joined by a female rescued from a Russian circus, and will receive a lifetime of care at the reserve, in his natural habitat.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Environment/2011/Oct-07/150647-rescue-of-lion-cub-in-beirut-puts-spotlight-on-illegal-animal-trade.ashx#ixzz1dq10LtGN
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

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