7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Overhaul animal trade laws call

AUTHORITIES have admitted they are powerless to stop exotic pets being smuggled into Bahrain until the country's animal trade laws are overhauled.

Wild animals such as cheetahs are being illegally brought into the country, where animal rights activists say they are exploited and subjected to horrific conditions.

Sources have claimed some smugglers hide cheetah cubs in special compartments underneath exotic bird shipments from Johannesburg, while others pass them off as kittens.

Crocodiles are allegedly imported when they are only a few inches long, hidden underneath bags of tropical fish.

However, Bahrain is one of just 22 countries that have still not signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - an international trade agreement aimed at eliminating the import of exotic animals.

Animal lovers are now concerned over the amount of illegal exotic animals entering the country and contributing to the multi-billion dollar trade.

They are also aggrieved that authorities are not taking action against exotic animal owners.

But Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife vice-president Dr Ismail Al Madani said there was no law against wild animals being sold or bred once they enter the country.

He added the government could not seize exotic animals from owners with proper documentation.

The GDN has visited one farm in Bahrain where a caged cheetah, a hyena and other animals such as reindeer are being openly kept.

However, animal wealth director and quarantine officer Dr Salman Abdulnabi Ibrahim confirmed that no cheetah or hyena had gone through quarantine in the past five years.

"The very fact that wild animals are being tied to chains in the heat is appalling," said Bahrain Society for the Protection of Animals (BSPCA) committee member Tony Waters.

"Something has to be done by the government to educate people to stop treating animals like that.

"Wild animals are not pets and should not be kept in tiny cages."

Sources claimed there were several cheetahs across the country being kept chained up in homes.

"We reject cheetahs coming into the country as it is completely illegal," they said.

"If you have an illegal animal, punishments will follow if we find out who brought it into the country.

"It is illegal to bring any non-domestic animal into the country unless it is listed as an appendix II animal by CITES."

More than 30,000 animal species are strictly controlled under the CITES convention.

Appendix I includes 800 species which are on the verge of extinction and which are or may be affected by international trade, including most big cats and primates.

Appendix II includes regulated trade of species not considered to be under the same threat as those in Appendix I, but which may become so if this trade is not regulated.

Dr Ibrahim said that although Bahrain was not a signatory, the country tried to abide by its rules.

"We have an animal trade agreement between the GCC countries and we also abide by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) laws," he added.

"All wildlife animals labelled illegal by CITES are illegal here too."

However, he admitted there was no law in Bahrain that forces people to release captive animals back into the wild.

"We need to encourage wildlife societies to solve this problem," he said.

"We must have stricter customs laws.

"Wild animals are not pets as domestic animals such as dogs and cats. Nobody can claim that a cheetah is a pet.

"It's a gross misrepresentation to sell these animals as pets. Laws need to be brought into Bahrain where residents can no longer own, sell, breed, or transport Appendix I exotic animals."

Critics have accused Customs officers for failing to properly inspect all animal shipments, allowing many illegal animals to slip through the net.

But Dr Ibrahim denied allegations that Bahrain's Customs officers were being sloppy.

However, he admitted there were no inspectors to trace the whereabouts of exotic animals.

"If the animals don't have documents, it's hard to trace which ones are coming into the country," he added.

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