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Fatal attractions: Wild side of the UAE

Shocking documentary by young Emirati reveals over 3,000 people in the UAE keep dangerous animals as pets

  • By Sharmila Dhal, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 March 29, 2012
  • XPRESS

  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • The stories featured in the documentary could only be the tip of the iceberg
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Dubai: Over 3,000 people in the UAE have wild animals as domestic pets, reveals a hard-hitting documentary by a young Emirati filmmaker.

In what could be the boldest expose yet, Marwan Al Hammadi, 22, a third-year student of applied communications at the Dubai Men's College has produced a 15-minute short film titled Cats which zooms into villas and farms across the UAE where proud owners talk about their prized possessions as the majestic cats lounge around them.

The idea of making the film came from the phone as pictures of exotic cats are being exchanged all the time. So I wondered who these people were and where the animals came from. I was surprised when I learnt the huge number of exotic animal owners, some of whom have more than 100 varieties, not just cats

Marwan Al Hammadi, Emirati filmmaker

The documentary, chosen from thousands of entries in a student competition, will be aired at the fifth Gulf Film Festival beginning in Dubai on April 10.

An exclusive preview of Cats on Tuesday indicated that the stories portrayed could be the tip of the iceberg. In a revealing preface, the film claims that over 3,000 people in the UAE have wild animals as domestic pets. Of those, many own three or more.

The Arabic commentary (with English subtitles) set against images on a mobile phone screen is no coincidence. "In fact, the idea of making the film came from the phone as pictures of exotic cats are being exchanged all the time. So I wondered who these people were and where the animals came from. I was surprised when I learnt the huge number of exotic animal owners, some of whom have more than 100 varieties, not just cats," said Al Hammadi, who directed the film along with Saeed Abbas Al Emadi, his junior in college.

The actual film opens with a pet owner pulling out a crate with a lion cub from his car at his spacious villa. He talks about how his family was shocked when he first brought the cub home. But they accepted him later, he says, even as the camera zooms in on the six-month-old cub at her playful best.

Another owner of a lion cub relates the challenges he had weaning away the cub from its mother in captivity. He asks his three children whether they love him or not. And they answer in the affirmative as they sit on a sofa, stroking their favourite pet.

A third owner of a two-year-plus cheetah is also sitting on a sofa in his villa with the animal by his side. He evidently got her when she was five months old and boasts about how she is with him "everywhere" - in the house, in the car and when he is with his friends. He even used to let her sleep on his bed.

Besides owners relating their experiences, images of chained or caged creatures at several homes stand out in sharp contrast to the sense of freedom these animals enjoy in the wild.

There is also a focus on the common practice of clipping animals' claws and teeth which is not just painful to the animals but denies them their basic faculties.

Inputs from a vet and an authority on exotic animals from Ras Al Khaimah stress the dangers of feeding them the wrong foods, raising them like domestic pets and bringing them illegally into the country. Even the cat owners acknowledge the need for a body that could help organise their tribe.

Al Hammadi said it took five months to complete the project which proved to be a huge learning experience.

"While filming, we actually got to play with some of the cubs, but we didn't feel right about it in the end. It was almost as if they had come here on a one-way ticket from the wild," he said.

There was another revelation: the pride associated with keeping exotic cats in the UAE. "It is in the personality of the people who live here. We live in a place of superlatives, the tallest, the biggest, the most exotic and so on. People want to apply that in their lifestyles as well. And they find ways to make it happen," said Al Hammadi.

As for how he managed to get access to homes with the big cats, he said he was refused by many owners.

He was thankful to those who consented as they did it in good faith. "My aim was only to depict reality, to show things for what they are."

Comments (23)

Share your views
  1. Added 15:20 March 29, 2012

    These anomalities are taking place in a country where feeding of stray cats is a punishable offence. It is also necessary to enquire if the port authorities are aware of there imports?

    Girish R Edathitta, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 14:42 March 29, 2012

    At last someone is highlighting this problem! I am aware of several cases in Abu Dhabi. It is not only cruel to keep these animals as pets, but what will happen when they are not cubs anymore? I am sure it will only be a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.

    Anonymous, Abu dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 14:28 March 29, 2012

    I would like to hear from the citizens here in the UAE who have been affected negatively by first hand experiences with these wild animals. The most recent case is of the family who had all their pets eaten up by the cheetah and were locked up scared in a room in their house till the animal was caught... People who have been attacked by animals like this and left with disabilities and children who have been mauled by wild animals kept as pets must realise the consequences of keeping these wild animals as pets. There is a major difference between private wildlife sanctuaries purposely built for these animals with educated and qualified people caring for them and normal people who have them in their homes and have no qualifications to care for them. There is nothing prestigious in keeping these animals unless you know their value and give them a chance to live and behave like wild animals in their natural habitat.

    noora, abu dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 14:05 March 29, 2012

    How did they get into the country? WHO LET THEM IN? That's the problem......

    aleida, sharjah, Netherlands

  5. Added 13:47 March 29, 2012

    There is a real need to educate people about how to treat and consider animals. It's necessary to educate children that animals are not toys and should be treated with affection as they would treat their close ones. This is very important, maybe even more important than other subjects and needs to be incorporated in the education curriculum. More awareness campaigns about educating people regarding this is necessary because if the situation continues like this, then all animals in this planet would soon be on the verge of extinction.

    chandani, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 13:28 March 29, 2012

    Marwan Al Hammadi's documentary will undoubtedly cause people to think -- a good thing. It is good that he is taking a non-judgemental role but his comment that he feels these captive animals are on a one-way ticket from the wild is intelligent and poignant. He is right when he says that people here do always have to have the biggest and the best, but ultimately, I fear, this is extremely short-sighted. My own views are far less non-judgemental. People who keep endangered animals as pets are selfish and do not think things through. Where do they think these animals are coming from? The endangered animal trade is on a par with the international drugs trade. It is run by unscrupulous people who break the law and get away with crimes which will affect our planet forever.

    Claire Wyness, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 13:26 March 29, 2012

    Sadly many officials are the ones who have these pets. So will we really see any action on this?

    Mary, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 13:00 March 29, 2012

    These animals are lliving in better conditions with their owners than they would have in other places like zoos, circus etc. We should be more concerned about human rights.

    Rashidmr, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 12:43 March 29, 2012

    Look at picture#6. I can swallow that sweety cubby. It's in our dream to have such lovely big cats at our home. But of course the real world will wisely advise you to kindly set these beautiful animals free in their own natural world.

    fans, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 11:44 March 29, 2012

    Wild animals should be set free and sent to the forest. It's a pity to keep them in captivity and torture them. Keeping them and claiming that they are pets is just an excuse.

    pius, dubai, United Arab Emirates

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