Jaguars are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and their trade is strictly prohibited. Image Credit: Supplied

DUBAI: Animal traffickers are peddling jaguar cubs in the UAE on Instagram. A short video clip uploaded on the photo-sharing app this week from an account with over 16,000 followers shows a pair of jaguar cubs with their mother in a mesh fronted enclosure. The accompanying caption reads: “Jag cubs available upon serious requests, not pets — zoos only! DM for information”

The third largest wildcat species in the world, jaguars are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their trade is strictly prohibited.

However, they were readily offered to this reporter when he posed as a buyer on Instagram.

“A pair will cost Dh100,000, plus shipping and airport fees,” said the seller who identified himself as Oliver from Slovakia in central Europe.

Subsequent conversations were held on WhatsApp during which the man also offered to sell tamed and hand-raised clouded and black leopards, pumas, white lions, meerkat, genet and white wolf besides a host of other wild animals including endangered ones.

For good measure, he assured that the animals came with certificates of origin and health. Oliver claimed the animals were raised in his farm and could be delivered any where in the UAE within 6-8 weeks. “We have to export them officially and I will need paper work to prove that. They will be legally exported to Oman before being brought to the UAE,” said Oliver.

It’s not an idle boast. Around this time last year, a teenager in Abu Dhabi bought an infant baboon via Instagram for Dh3,500. The animal was later rescued and taken to Al Ain Zoo, as Gulf News reported.

Global menace

Illicit animal trafficking is a $10 billion global industry.

In 2014, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found 120 online advertisements in the UAE for internationally protected live animals.

Following the revelations, all online platforms selling endangered live animals were shut down.

But now it appears that the thriving illegal wildlife marketplace has shifted to social media.

Alarmed by the development, last year 21 tech companies including Google, Facebook and Instagram joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC to form the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.

The idea is to develop and implement policies which could cut down wildlife trafficking across online platforms by 80 per cent by 2020.

In a related move, Facebook-owned Instagram has added a warning to hashtags associated with harmful behaviour to animals or the environment. But clearly the ploy doesn’t seem to be working as their trade continues to flourish.

The UAE is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which is committed to ending the illegal wildlife trade.

Online trade of animals listed in CITES through social networking platforms and websites is illegal and a violation of Federal Law No 11 of 2002 which governs the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora.

Those caught breaking the law may face a number of penalties ranging from significant fines and confiscation to prison sentences.

What the UAE ministry says

Hiba Al Shehi, Acting Director of Biodiversity Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal wildlife trafficking and is cracking down on criminal syndicates. Federal Law No. 11 of 2002 concerning regulating and controlling the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora clearly outlines penalties for the violation of its provisions, including imprisonment for up to six months and fines of up to Dh50,000, in addition to confiscation of the illegally traded or held animals.”

She added: “Online channels provide illegal wildlife smugglers with an unregulated, anonymous, and virtually unlimited outreach. Recognising this, MOCCAE has partnered with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to monitor posts and advertisements offering wild species and wildlife products for sale. And because it takes a network to defeat a network, the UAE government has collaborated with other governments and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), such as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) which includes the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation, among others, to identify and combat wildlife cybercrimes.”

To motivate people to join the fight against illegal wildlife trade and make them comprehend the magnitude of the harm this trade inflicts on endangered species and global biodiversity, Al Shehi added, the UAE has significantly stepped up its efforts to raise public awareness of the importance of ensuring that wild animals remain in the wild.

As part of this priority, the government has teamed up with various stakeholders from the public and private sectors to run awareness campaigns and workshops in diverse locations across the country, such as shopping malls, local markets, airports, schools and universities.