Dubai: The UAE’s top government official responsible for animal welfare has reprimanded a cafe in Dubai that allowed a captive cheetah to prowl around the restaurant.
The cafe’s owner his since apologised, claiming that she was unaware of the country’s laws surrounding exotic pets.
The wild animal, which is illegal to own in the UAE, was seen walking around the new restaurant in a collection of videos posted to Instagram earlier this month.
Other clips showed the cheetah eating meat on the cafe floor. The cafe, which recently opened in Al Wasl, has since removed the videos from its page.
Following an online backlash, the owner of the cafe told Gulf News by phone that she was apologetic, and had got carried away by the sight of the cheetah.
According to her, she saw a man park his vehicle outside her restaurant and when she stepped out to inform him that the cafe was not yet open for business, she spotted the cheetah in the car.
Thrilled, she invited the man and his cheetah in.
“It was like seeing a celebrity,” she said. “We got hyped up.”
The owner denied using the cheetah to promote her restaurant, despite posting eight videos of the animal to the cafe’s official Instagram page.
“I’m sorry,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t have allowed the animal in to her cafe if she had known about the laws.
Bringing a cheetah into a cafe or any public space in the UAE is illegal, and poses a “great risk to people’s lives,” said Hiba Al Shehi, acting director of the biodiversity department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, in a statement to Gulf News.
The official said that under Federal Law No. 22 of 2016, individuals are not eligible to obtain a permit for the possession of dangerous and wild animals such as cheetahs.
The law regulates the possession of dangerous animals, and aims to stop individuals from owning, trading and breeding all types of dangerous, wild and exotic animals.
Al Shehi added that a thorough investigation of the cafe and its owner would be carried out, in coordination with authorities in Dubai.
“It was just friends and family there at the time, and it was just a baby. It wasn’t dangerous, it’s small,” the cafe’s owner noted.
Cheetahs reportedly cost between $10,000 to $20,000 each when sold on the black market. Often trafficked as newborns, 72 per cent of exotic animals in the pet trade die before they even reach stores, according to a 2014 report published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
One person close to the investigation told Gulf News that they expected the cheetah to be confiscated soon.
Since the beginning of 2017, some residents of the UAE who keep exotic pets have faced fines of up to Dh700,000, in addition to possible jail time. A new law introduced in January last year banned the private ownership and trade of exotic animals.
The cheetah, which is native to parts of North, South, and East Africa, is currently listed as a vulnerable animal, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List.
Some researchers now contend, however, that the large cat should be escalated to endangered status as soon as possible, according to Al Shehi.
“We think that the UAE has a relatively strong legislation to prohibit the keeping of exotic pets, especially dangerous animals,” Elsayed Mohammad, the Middle East regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told Gulf News.
However, Mohammad said the community in the country lacked awareness.
“People are still interested in keeping baboons, cheetahs and lions, and that presents a threat to the community,” he added.
Rare and exotic animals pose a danger to human health, experts say. They are responsible for the transmission of diseases, and can often be unpredictable and aggressive.
The import of such animals, an industry estimated to be worth upwards of $10 billion, according to wildlife protection organisation Humane Society, also contributes to the devastation of wild populations, causing “tremendous suffering,” the group says.
“This in addition to the lack of animal welfare … they’re living in conditions not matching their natural environment,” Mohammad said.
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