Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cheetah Highlights Middle East's Illegal Animal Trade


Earlier this month, a cheetah had caused widespread panic as it was seen walking the streets of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, it was safely caught and then placed in an animal shelter. However, the presence of this magnificent creature wondering about in civilization highlighted the thriving market for exotic pets. Cheetahs, along with falcons, had been prized by royalty as hunters for centuries. But now, this century-old tradition has been stretching too far such that the animals are deprived of their natural habitats. In addition to that, Middle East has become a hotspot for the illegal animal trade. According to Mohamed Elsayed, Middle East program officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), other animals that are illegally smuggled into the region include chimpanzees, bush babies, tortoises, bears, pythons, and birds of prey. Many are said to arrive from Somalia. He further added that the supply of such exotic animals could put people at risk from animal-borne diseases, as well as raise animal welfare concerns. John Sellar, a former Scottish police officer who now works as a chief of enforcement for U.N's CITES body, stated that the Persian Gulf has been a key route for the animal trade despite international bans. This is seen as several countries have signed up to CITES. However, three others are left to join. Bahrain is expected to join within twelve months, which leaves Iraq and Lebanon. In addition to that, the illegal operation still continue despite the improvement in the situation. Dr. Elsayed stated that there is lack of awareness among the public that wild animals belong in the wild.

I also feel the same way as Dr. Elsayed, in which there should be public awareness concerning the lives of animals that are illegally smuggled into the Middle East as pets. Not only do these animals raise concerns regarding welfare, but also diseases which could be deadly to humans. One possible malady could be monkeypox, which has hit U.S since 2003 when giant pouched rats were brought into the country as exotic pets from Africa. The top three states having record-breaking cases include Illinois with 19, Indiana with 24, and Wisconsin with 44. Giant pouched rats are just one of the invasive species notorious for spreading zoonotic diseases, but there are also other animals infested with such disease. I personally feel that several Middle Eastern countries who have partnered up with CITES should tighten their securities, in order to curb down this illegal practice for the safety of both people and animals. Furthermore, there should also be a public awareness in reaching out and educating the citizens regarding the animal trade and its dangers. That way, it will help accelerate the movement against the exotic pet trade in the region.

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