People look at a stuffed bear seized by Dubai Customs on display at Mirdif City Centre. Visitors to the exhibit will receive pamphlets outlining the illegal underground industry that some estimate runs into billions of dollars annually. Image Credit: FRANCOIS NEL/Gulf News

Dubai: As federal officials mull new laws banning ownership of endangered animals, Dubai Customs is striving to crack down on the smuggling of vulnerable species.

At the launch Tuesday of a public awareness campaign to discourage smuggling of exotic animals, Dubai Customs officials said efforts to stop imports of endangered creatures is having an impact.

The agency set up a new exhibit Tuesday at Mirdif City Centre filled with a wide range of stuffed exotic animals known to be brought illegally into the UAE.

Alligators, bears and rare birds are on display to remind the public that every animal taken as a pet is one less in the environment and is contributing to the decline of these species.

Visitors to the exhibit will receive pamphlets outlining the illegal underground industry that some estimate may run into billions of dollars annually.

Ahmad Mahboob Mosabah, executive director of the Customer Management Division at Dubai Customs, told Gulf News that illegal traders are being stopped at Dubai borders.

"Last year we stopped about 120 animals and plants from entering Dubai," Mosabah said.

Blocked shipments

"Some were falcons, turtles and skins of animals. We also blocked shipments of oud."

Only those who possess permits or certificates for research are allowed to bring endangered animals into the country, he said.

Stemming the smuggling of animals is not easy, but Mosabah said that the more the public is aware of the problem the more likely smugglers may be exposed.

"We are trying to give people the message that this is very serious," Mosabah said in an interview.

"We hope that the numbers will be reduced and people will know more about the circumstances of endangered animals. People should know about the dangers of importing these animals into the country."

Mosabah said it is unacceptable that people are raiding nature for personal pets.

Months of recent news reports have logged sightings within city limits across the UAE of wild cats, monkeys and baboons roaming neighbourhoods or enjoying car rides with their owners.

The reports led government legislators to note in April that they are weighing a draft law "to prevent" domestication of endangered species over and above existing laws making endangered exotic pet ownership illegal.

Last year the government said those caught in possession of endangered animals without permits or research certificates are liable for punishment of up to Dh50,000 in fines and up to six months imprisonment.

Federal law

As a signatory in 1990 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites), the UAE enacted Federal Law No. 11 of 2002 to regulate animal trade and tasked enforcement to the Ministry of Environment and Water.

The Cites treaty prohibits endangered animals designated as "Appendix I" from being exported from native countries unless the move is to help in science or conservation efforts.

A report issued by the UAE in 2010 to Cites contained a long list of illegal animals entering the country. The list included 38 Houbara Bustards found dead, 65 falcons (including two large Saker Falcons), 128 tortoises, 71 parrots, five monkeys, five bush babies (small nocturnal primates) and a Silvery Baboon.