by Laura El-Katiri

The draft FNC law that aims to ban private ownership of exotic animals is a step in the right direction.

Private ownership of wild animals is dangerous. Exotic predators such as lions, wolves, hyenas, tigers and cheetahs are wild animals that are impossible to domesticate owing to their very nature, diet and disposition. They are unsuitable to be kept in homes or gardens. Statistics from the exotic animals incidents database by the Born Free Foundation reveal more than 140 incidents with domestically kept exotic animals in the US in 2015.

Exotic pet ownership drives animal trade – both legal and illegal. Exotic pet trade from outside the UAE into the country is currently legal as long as adequate paperwork has been completed. But this says nothing about the conditions under which these animals are caught, sold and re-traded. The Government has recently restated its own commitment to fighting illegal wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trade inflicts incredible suffering on animals. Animals captured from the wild and taken away from their natural habitat and their families are often subjected to long, painful and brutal journeys.

There is no such thing as compassion in wildlife trade – exotic animals are traded as commodities with the aim of generating money for a chain of poachers, intermediaries and sales people. Many of these species are also endangered in their countries of origin.

Exotic animals that eventually make it to the market are often undernourished and ill. This is not to mention the abuse they may have suffered along the way, often involving weeks in dirty cages with insufficient nutrition, sunlight and care.

Countless animals die when first captured because of injury, maltreatment or negligence. Those that arrive alive are often traded, re-traded and bred, with no effective control being possible once they are in private possession.

To make them “safe” for human possession and interaction – after all, no lion will naturally pose for selfies or give “kisses” to their owner – many of them undergo cruel procedures such as long periods of caging and “punishment” for undesired behaviour, many are declawed, with the essential objective of breaking these animals’ spirit and rendering them dependent on human care.

Caging animals is cruel, no matter their size, but forcing an adult lion or cheetah to spend their lives in a few square metres – possibly “walked” or taken out for a few hours in a private garden – is a horrendously cruel act of self-deceiving animal love, despite the various motivations of their owners.

The truth is also that as long as this practice is permitted by law, there will always be those who fail to comply with even minimal animal welfare standards, and checking on such compliance is administratively difficult and imposes a completely undue financial burden on society – which is also left to pick up the bill for exotic animals no longer wanted.

It is time to prohibit this disgraceful practice, but the law will also need to plan ahead for the consequences of legal changes: once it is clear how many wild animals are being kept under private ownership, a solution will need to be found for them that takes care of these animals for their remaining lifetime.

Private ownership of exotic animals is also one piece in the large puzzle of animal welfare related issue that will need to be addressed, including “legal” ownership of such animals for the entertainment of people in zoos and circuses – a similarly disgraceful aspect, which creates virtually the same moral dilemmas as private ownership. The UAE’s animal welfare law overall needs to be addressed too – sanctioning animal cruelty, and tackling the endemic problem of year-round pet dumping. Essentially, the plate is full.

Laura El-Katiri is a consultant in Abu Dhabi specialising in Middle East-based energy policy and sustainable consumption

On Twitter: @lauraelkatiri