UAE alarmed as exotic animals prowl streets

Cheetahs sunning themselves in a neighbourhood backyard, chimps frolicking on a beach and lions poking their nose out of tinted car windows may all sound like a plot straight out of fantasy film, but ask old residents of the UAE, and a vast majority of them would narrate incidences of such alarming sights on these city streets.

This week’s incidence of a five-month-old cheetah strolling into an Emirati residence in the oasis city of Al Ain springs the trap on the trade of exotic pets that is still booming in the region.

While the most recent escapade had a happy ending with the spotted hunter captured by the police and the Al Ain zoo authorities before being transferred to the latter’s facilities for proper care, residents across the UAE are voicing concerns that the number of incidences of exotic animals escaping and endangering people is on the rise.

Wild cats on a joyride

The cheetah escape comes close on the heels of two other incidences that were reported this year alone, both ironically in the Jumeriah Beach Residence area of Dubai, where a lion and a tiger were spotted hanging out of a car windows on separate occasions.

It was an unsuspecting evening of February 9 when an evening walk down JBR resulted in chaos as a lion on a leash was spotted poking its head out of a white SUV. Said a JBR resident who was present at the time: “I was walking home that evening after a grocery run when a car pulled up at the JBR traffic light. As the window rolled down, a small head poked out that had me drop my bags in shock! It was a lion.”

The cub, which according to pictures appeared a few months old, was on a joyride with its owner or trainer when the show and tell session occurred. The resident, who prefers his name to be left out, said that crowds were gathering around and taking pictures, which at least put his mind at ease “that I wasn’t turning senile at my age.”

He added: “The car sped away soon enough when the driver realised that people were crowding around to take pictures. But many of us were too shaken up to move for the next few minutes.”

A few weeks later, a similar incident was captured on camera, with another white SUV streaking down the roads with a full size tiger hanging out the window.

Social media erupted in Facebook updates and tweets as the picture of the joyriding tiger spread like wildfire and even started to trend on Twitter.

Said JBR resident Andrew Pickard: “Our neighbourhood is turning into a mini safari at this rate; only this time the residents are the ones roaming the concrete jungle while the wild animals cruise in the air conditioned cars.”

But not everyone is so tongue and cheek. Marianna Darby, also a JBR resident, said: “This is ridiculous! Not only are these careless individuals endangering the lives of residents here with their exotic pets’ fetish, but also their ill treatment of these animals is deplorable.

“Most of these exotic pets here are declawed, with their sharp teeth filed down and found in various states of malnourishment. It is disgusting to put a creature through that for your own personal pleasure or to make a quick buck.”

Neighbourhood escapades The above-mentioned incidences of endangered animals being spotted across the UAE have not been isolated with a similar case reported in May last year, where residents in the capital were terrified when a 10-month-old cheetah was discovered roaming the streets of Al Karamah.

The injured animal was said to have escaped its owner, with a chain around its neck and malnourished; it was finally captured by authorities and handed over to the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre, according to media reports.

A few months earlier to that incident, another cheetah scare had residents in Sharjah locking themselves in their home when the wild cat was found swimming ashore from Khalid Port before seeking refuge in a nearby mosque. At the time, media reports suggested that the animal may have been part of illegal cargo aboard a dhow and jumped into the sea to escape its captors.

The two-year-old female was sent to the Sharjah Desert Park after its capture. Exotic animals have always found willing buyers in the UAE and this website has reported on several wild animals easily available and being bought here. In an earlier report, the website found illegal African cheetahs are becoming very popular as pets for some rich individuals who pay about Dh40,000 to own this dangerous pet.

A 27-year-old UAE national from Abu Dhabi who sells cheetahs illegally in the UAE was quoted as telling 'Emirates 24|7' in the report that all these cheetahs are smuggled into the country from African countries.

He added: “These cheetahs are mainly exported from African countries to Somalia. From there, they are exported to Yemen and then it is smuggled into the UAE from Saudi borders. This is done by highly experienced people who have been doing this for a very long time.” Another earlier report also tracked a four-month old lion cub on sale and the reporter was offered the wild cat by a dealer for as

little Dh 50,000. The cat was advertised on a website and when the reporter called the dealer, he was informed the animal was currently being kept in a villa near the Emirates Hills area. My family and other animals While wild cats seem to be the top choice for buyers in the UAE, incidents of chimps, pet snakes and a crocodile have also made headlines over the past few years.

An Expatwoman.com member reported on the site’s forum: “Two years ago I was on The Palm when a monkey came after me while I was walking on the beach.  “I was very frightened because I was five months pregnant and the animal was flashing its teeth at me. We called the police and the houseboy insisted he was just being friendly.”

Jhanavi Thaker reported a similar incident on the Jumeirah public beach when she came across a chimp on a leash, being led by its caretaker. She said: “I was walking past it when I took a double take and noticed the animal; the Pakistani caretaker told me it was somebody’s pet and pretty harmless.  “But a second later, the chimp jumped at my packed sandwich and snatched it away and ended up scratching me. I created quite a fuss, but the caretaker panicked and ushered the animal away in a car.”

Meanwhile, in an incident that was reminiscent of the film, “Snakes on a Plane”, a Cairo-bound Egypt Air flight departing from Abu Dhabi found an unsuspecting passenger when a 30cm-long baby crocodile escaped from the cargo hold and spread panic midflight. But the story that has spread like an urban legend occurred in 2005 and remains etched in the memories of most old time residents of Dubai, when a woman was attacked by a python while watching a movie at a local cinema. 

The hysterical woman was rescued from the grip of the four-feet long slithery serpent when another moviegoer calmly unwrapped the wayward python and carried it out of the cinema.  It was later said that the python was somebody’s pet and had escaped a car parked close by.

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