|This African lion cub was one of several victims of Middle East's growing illegal pet trade|
An African lion cub was recently rescued from a balcony in Downtown Beirut. Its rescue put the spotlight of Middle East's illegal pet trade, and pointed out the much-needed regional protection of endangered species. The five-week-old cub was illegally smuggled into Lebanon, and will be sent to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. According to Jason Mier, executive director of the non-governmental organization Animals Lebanon, the cub was likely to had been brought in from Syria where he personally visited several private zoos selling big cats to importers in the region. Lana al-Khalil, the NGO's president, further added that Animals Lebanon had revealed Syria's zoos offering newborn lion cubs for $350 each and workers who advise on how to successfully bring a lion to Lebanon. She even said that a zoo owner reported bringing eight lions from Syria and admitted they all had died because they were too young to be separated from their mothers. Despite their deaths, the popularity of having these majestic beasts as pets has increased drastically in recent years. In addition to lions, cheetahs and other African wildcats are also kept as pets. Mier also added that the number of private zoos is increasing throughout the Middle East, and many have no regional zoo association to keep check on the menageries. They are chiefly preserves for the wealthy, who buy these exotic animals as symbols of status and having little concern for their welfare.
This article gives a clear notion about how the concept of the word "zoo" is misinterpreted. During the early days, they were simply a private collection for rich individuals and evolved into centers of education and conservation. This idea has led to the establishment of the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums, which consist of several zoological facilities committed to both conservation and education. Unfortunately in Lebanon, no private zoo has met these standards and is chiefly a private collection of wild animals having little or no care at all. But what really shocks me is the fact that many owners of these untameable beasts do not see the problem in keeping their "prized possessions," even if they become too big and have to live in a backyard. My theory is that there are some rich individuals in the region, who do not realize that they are experimenting with danger by keeping lions and other big cats as pets. Beirut, which is deemed as the cultural and business center in the region, had once been nearly shattered during a bloody civil war. But now, there is a new ticking time bomb in the midst of the city: the illegal pet trade. Among the victims are big cats and other potentially dangerous animals, which are most likely to critically injure or kill their owners. Or worse, escape from their enclosures and terrorize the public. This is why it is crucial to battle this lucrative, yet dangerous business. Otherwise, both the animals and the public will suffer casualties. In addition to that, I hope that Lebanon will join CITES. This will help the nation in preventing any further flow of exotic pets in its towns and cities. But for now, the community really needs to step up against this ongoing atrocity. There are lives at stake, both wild and civilized.
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