It’s now illegal to keep dangerous animals as pets in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where exotic creatures can often go hand-in-hand with flashy cars and designer clothes among the Persian Gulf playboys.
According to Gulf News, the freshly passed laws mean owners of “dangerous animals” must own a license, which will only be handed out to zoos, research and conservation centers, and circuses. The list of banned animals isn’t yet clear, but it’s believed to include cheetahs, leopards, and other big cats. Owners who take their dangerous animals out in public will face fines ranging from 10,000 to 500,000 UAE Dirham ($2,720 to $136,000) and potentially jail time.
Possession of dangerous animals for trading purposes will be punished with even harsher sentences and fines. The government is also encouraging the public to report any offenses to authorities.
"People keep wild animals as a status symbol. Also they are under the misconception that by having wild animals in their homes they are conserving them,” said El Sayed Mohamed, regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Dubai, according to the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National. "We welcome and congratulate the UAE Government in taking this important initiative, which we wish to be a milestone for the rest of the countries, not just in the region, but also in the world.”
Posting images and videos of big cats on Instagram has become somewhat of a status symbol for members of the UAE super-rich, however official figures on dangerous animal ownership in the UAE aren’t available since the market remains largely unregulated.
“The numbers seem to be mind blowing,” Patricia Tricorache, who’s worked with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, told National Geographic in January 2016. “I was told that in the last two weeks there were two sets of 30 cheetah cubs in Yemen ready to be shipped to the Gulf states.”