Dubai: We’ve bought a crocodile – again.
A Nile crocodile hatchling, cramped in a small box, was last week delivered to an undercover Gulf News team posing as buyers.
Under international rules, Nile crocodiles can’t be traded without strict permits, usually reserved for official purposes.
But crocodiles – and other dangerous animals – are easy to buy without permits in the UAE, our investigation shows.
We had exposed this underground trade in exotic pets in 2009, when we effortlessly managed to buy a Nile hatchling, which we nammed Harry, from the Sharjah Birds and Animal Market.
Also offered to us then were pricy cheetah and lion cubs, baboons, poisonous reptiles, and other wildlife on the restricted or banned list.
Four years on, it seems nothing has changed. We got Larry in a little glass cage. Harry cost Dh1,500, and four years on, we snapped up Larry for Dh,1000.
We are back at the Sharjah Birds and Animal Market to see what contraband is on offer. The salesman of the first pet shop we visit turns down our bid for a baby crocodile, saying “that’s illegal”.
At the second shop, we get a lead.
“Come back in 10 minutes, talk to my guy,” the salesman says. We leave. We return and moments later the “guy” shows up too.
“I was looking for something special… like a baby crocodile,” says ‘Jason’, a cover for Gulf News Video Editor Jaye Lentin.
The dealer, a chatty young man, is hesitant at first. “I don’t have, it’s prohibited,” he replies.
I insist: “But Jason wants something exotic, not like regular stuff.”
“You know him, right?” the dealer asks in Hindi so Jason won’t understand. I assure him we are well-to-do colleagues at a construction company who fancy “exotic” pets.
We follow the dealer into a quiet area of the shop. Away from other customers, he spills the beans, barely able to control his greed.
“I can get you crocodile also, I can get you anything.”
Speaking again in Hindi, he adds: “These Westerners are a problem; we don’t know where they work. You know him, so it’s all right.”
Jason asks candidly: “You said about the crocodile, how much is that?”
“It’s only Dh1,000, but the problem if it grows big, you can’t handle. I’ll get you babies, I’ve babies,” the dealer answers.
Testing us, he adds: “[When it grows] you can give it, like to zoo, but they will ask from where you get it.”
I jump in: “You can give to [our fictional friend] Kelly, she’s got a farmhouse.”
Comforted, the dealer carries on: “I’ll get you tonight, tomorrow; no problem. I’ll come to you and give it. Tell me one day before, I’ll arrange and bring for you.”
Jason asks innocently: “Do we meet you here?”
“No, no, no, I’ll bring to your place. We have only good animals, no tension. It’s very nice.”
We shake hands and agree to meet in a few days.
A week on, we press the dealer to deliver the hatchling in a parking lot near Safa Park in Dubai.
“But I’ll only come at night, when it’s dark,” he says before hanging up the phone.
It’s handover day and our crew is in position to catch the deal on tape.
The dealer rolls up in a small hatchback car, full of boxes containing “pets”. It’s too dark to see what wildlife is inside.
He mistakenly hands over a box with a tarantula at first, apologises, and passes on the crocodile box.
“This box is very small for him. If he bite also, no problem. It’s not like a big bite, it’s a small, like a pinch. But don’t take from tail, every crocodile don’t like that.
“If it grow big, take care. I’m not any guarantee.”
Jason holds the box while the dealer brags about his connections, tempting us with more sales.
“I have in car today since morning, maybe seven monkeys. I just to finish all and come to you, that’s why I’m late,” he says.
He reels off the inventory: slow loris, orangutan, chimpanzee, cheetah, lion and Siberian tiger cubs – “anything.”
The prices range between Dh40,000 and Dh175,000.
He boasts: “I can find you anything, you can use it as a pet. You can take your enjoyment, and finish.”
We pay, suggesting there will be more money after Jason returns from holiday. The dealer leaves, asking for directions to a highway leading to Abu Dhabi, where his next customer awaits him.
He rings me up after a few minutes: “Thank you for today. If you get me more sales, I can keep some cut for you.”
The hatchling is keeping well at Dubai Zoo, also home to some other animals rescued from trafficking.