Dubai: Two lion cubs whose mother was used for tricks in an Egyptian travelling circus bound for Abu Dhabi next week are being sold on the black market in the UAE for Dh35,000 each despite being crippled by a calcium deficiency.
The illegal trade in endangered species continues to be rampant in the country, even as a federal UAE delegation attends the international summit in Doha for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an organisation that monitors the trade of over-exploited animals.
Gulf News obtained access to the cubs by posing as potential buyers. The owner, Mamdouh Al Helou, an Egyptian ‘lion trainer' in his 50s and his son, currently living in International City on their ‘first time' in the UAE, took Gulf News to a location far into the desert between Dhaid and Ras Al Khaimah.
"The Al Helou family is very well known in Egypt with regard to lions and tigers," he said. "It's a trade that has been passed down from father to son. My son Mohammad is a fifth-generation lion trainer."
Flanked by warehouses along a desolate road with no signposts to speak of, four wooden crates the size of a small car were lined up in the sun. Surrounding them were abandoned and rusting carnival rides which probably haven't heard the cheer of children in years.
The cubs, both male, peer out of the bars of their cage motionless, made lame due to being removed from their mother and her calcium-rich milk at too young an age. Their legs cannot carry the weight of their bodies, also due to a lack of exercise.
In the above video footage taken by Gulf News, the cubs can be seen failing to crawl during a short outing from their cage, their hind legs limp. Their mother and another adult lioness pace in the box next door. Further down, two male lions and a tiger, each languish in their own crates.
Al Helou said he is giving them injections of calcium supplements and vitamin B to help them recover. The cubs were also under veterinary care for three weeks at a clinic in Sharjah, Gulf News learnt.
"Calcium and vitamin deficiency may not be the reasons behind the cubs being lame," said a Dubai-based zoologist and big cat specialist who did not wish to be named without a chance to diagnose the animals for himself. "Lack of exercise is the most common reason for an ailment of this kind in [big cat] cubs in captivity." He added that it is not a fatal condition, "but it can affect the quality of life of the animal, depending on the severity of the condition. It may also be a hereditary disease due to inbreeding which happens in captivity." However he added, "If they can't stand then this is a very severe case."
The cats, listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), are all due to perform at a circus in April in Abu Dhabi. While permits have been issued for the ‘display' of the animals by UAE authorities, no approval has been given for sale in any way.
John M. Sellar, Chief of Enforcement Assistance, CITES Secretariat said CITES only regulates the cross-border nature of trade. "Once an Appendix-II animal has been imported into a country, the provisions of CITES do not apply. Domestic law would determine what can happen to it thereafter. Some countries, for example, have legislation governing the possession of dangerous animals (such as a lion) but I don't know what the situation is for countries in this region. If it wasn't ‘dangerous', for example an Appendix-II listed parrot or reptile, then most countries wouldn't have any control."
The ownership and trade of wild, dangerous or endangered animals in the UAE is monitored by two laws: law 11 for 2002 for international trade under CITES, and federal law 16 of 2007 on respecting animal welfare.
These clearly highlight that prior permission must be acquired by the Ministry of Environment and Water to own, sell or transport such animals into the country.
Mona Al Shamsi, head of the CITES unit at the Ministry of Environment and Water confirmed that the circus has been issued papers to bring the circus to the UAE under strict conditions that animals be flown in rather than driven long distances, vaccinated, micro-chipped and "most importantly the same number of animals brought inside must be taken out".
She added that on no condition was selling any of the animals authorised by the Ministry.
Dr Al Saeed Mohammad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare added that while the ministry must be notified of wild animal sales, there seems to be no article under which a buyer can be prosecuted. Permits for "personal use" are issued under certain conditions.
UAE law and CITES
The ownership and trade of wild, dangerous or endangered animals in the UAE is monitored by two laws: law 11 for 2002 for international trade under CITES, and federal law 16 of 2007 on respecting animal welfare. These clearly highlight that prior permission must be acquired by the Ministry of Environment and Water to own, sell or transport such animals into the country.
Mona Al Shamsi, head of the CITES unit at the Ministry of Environment and Water confirmed that the circus has been issued papers to bring the circus to the UAE under strict conditions that animals be flown in rather than driven long distances, vaccinated, microchipped and “most importantly the same number of animals brought inside must be taken out”.
She added that on no condition was selling any of the animals authorised by the Ministry. Dr Al Saeed Mohammad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare added that while the ministry must be notified of wild animal sales, there seems to be no article under which a buyer can be prosecuted. Permits for “personal use” are issued under certain conditions.
This is heartbraking, It's just too much pain for this cub.
I wonder how this breeder would feel if he was trapped in that cage for life, in the middle of the desert & under the sun crawling to get water with this chain around his neck.
A lion is the king of the jungle, that's where they look great, that's where they can be LIONS. Humans killed everything these lions symbolise... Shame on us.
Nehmat , Johannesburg, South Africa
Added 17:05 March 24, 2010
Great expose. Well done. Hopefully the animals get a chance to live in their natural habitat. While many enjoy the circus where the animals are made to perform, I cannot imagine the horrors they must be subject to, during training.
Ganesh, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Added 16:37 March 24, 2010
THIS IS A REAL TRAGGEDY TO ANIMAL SPECIES WHICH SHUD NEVER HAPPEN. BEING SILENT CREATURES THEY ARE EXPLOITED BY HUMAN BEINGS FOR MONEY. WE CAN CLEARLY SEE THESE SMALL CUBS REALLY CAN'T STAND WITH THEIR LEGS AND REST ARE IN TROUBLE OF HEAT. I"LL SPREAD THIS TRAGGIC NEWS AS WELL AS I CAN. ITS OUR DUTY TO SAVE THESE ANIMALS .BY SAVING WE ARE SAVING OUR EARTH FOR OUR BETTER LIVING
Anjana Viswanath, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 16:36 March 24, 2010
"Surrounding them were abandoned and rusting carnival rides which probably haven't heard the cheer of children in years...."
emotive journalism at its best. whats that got to do with the lions?
great story by the way. these guys need to be jailed in tiny little cages and put in orange jumpsuits
Hadhami, Dubai, Afghanistan
Added 15:44 March 24, 2010
What an absolute disgrace.
Well done Gulf News for exposing this.
Ministry Officials need to take these lion cubs away from these disgraceful people and take them somewhere like Al Ain wildlife park where they can live the life they deserve.
Surely officials have a responsibility to ensure animal's lives are not endangered and if this circus is not taking care of the animals, the Ministry should have the power to take the animals.
The owner, Mamdouh Al Helou, an Egyptian 'lion trainer' in his 50s and his son should be ashamed of themselves.
I hope that Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority cancels the permission for this horrendous travelling circus to come to the city.
I hope this is resolved quickly and favourably. This should not happen in this day and age. Really, really awful.
Natalie, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 14:43 March 24, 2010
thank you gulf news for highlighting this attrocity. i wish i had space or money to take care of these cats. i'm counting on UAE officials to stop this attrocity & give proper attention & care to these poor little animals.
Robert, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 14:20 March 24, 2010
Shocking news and great investigation journalism!! This issue should be made known worldwide. I will do my best to spread the word through my blogspot animals-in-the-news!
Paul Kraaijer, Zwolle, Netherlands
Added 14:18 March 24, 2010
This was extremely painful to watch, extremely sad.
Akif, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 11:59 March 24, 2010
will the Authorities help these cubs or it will be just another article on the web to entertain the readers. the so called lion and tiger trainer seem they have no idea what they are doing, they just want to make some money and leave. the cubs should be taken by the Authorities and punish the famous Egyptian trainers.
Ms. Mona Al Shamsi should watch the clips to know what is happening and take serious action towards the Circus and save these animals, that is your job since you are heading CITES unit.
YM, Muscat, Oman
Added 11:20 March 24, 2010
The human cruelty never seems to stop! I will never go to this circus performances. I hope that the newspapers dont publish the advertisement for these performances.
Erne Svensson, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 11:04 March 24, 2010
Good that GN is drawing attention to plight of animals.
A lot more should be done by authorities, but we can do our bit by reporting those who keep wild animals as pets and education others about cruelty involved in imprisoning animals in circuses, zoos, aquariums, etc
The best thing you can do as an individual is just don't buy a ticket to these places.
SE, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Added 10:54 March 24, 2010
I saw the photo of the debilitated cub in the morning as I was stepping out of the house, and it's brought tears to my eyes, an ache in my heart and entirely ruined my day. It a reporter could see that they are sick, how come the customs authorities didn't notice anything abnormal? How could permission for the 'circus' to display animals be given without any riders about the conditions in which they were kept? In this heat, in a cage, in the middle of a desert, without proper food and water - how can humans be so cruel and have the audacity to look one in the face and claim professionalism? How can the rest of us tolerate this and not have any comment against this criminal activity, which must be punished?