The cubs belong to a travelling circus, which is camping near Dhaid. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE animal welfare officials returned two lion cubs to the same Egyptian owner they charged with animal mistreatment.

The travelling circus which brought the animals to the UAE has now taken them to Bahrain while it is believed the owner has returned to Egypt, a ministry of environment and water official said.

For Dh35,000 each, Mamdouh Al Helw, an Egyptian lion trainer in his 50s offered the cubs for sale to Gulf News in an undercover investigation into the illegal animal and luxury pet trade in the UAE in March, this year.

Posing as potential buyers, Gulf News obtained access to the cubs and was taken to a location between Dhaid and Ras Al Khaimah where four adult lions and one tiger were also caged, and two elephants were tied up.

The cubs, both male, were lame from a bad diet and poor living conditions. They had to receive injections of calcium supplements and vitamin B from their keepers.

Violated law

Abdullah Salem Gana'an, director of agricultural and livestock department at the Ministry of Environment and Water, said in a statement the lions' owner was charged with violating UAE law 16 of 2007 on animal welfare and subsequently made to pay veterinary costs incurred by the Ministry of Environment and Water to nurse the cubs back to health.

However, the cubs could not be permanently confiscated as under Article 9 of the federal law animals detained and taken for treatment should be returned to their owner once medical costs are repaid.

It is unknown how much the health care costs of the cubs' stay in a private veterinary clinic in Dubai and at the Al Ain Wildlife Park, apparently paid by Al Helw, came to. Al Ain Wildlife Park said the cubs left in June, in much better health than when they arrived.

Attempt to sell

At the time, Al Helw said he had been hired for a circus planned to take place in the UAE but this could not be confirmed with the authorities.

Gana'an did not comment in regards to the attempted illegal sale of the cubs but stressed that "any future establishment of a circus in the UAE should be done within the terms of UAE animal welfare law."

Al Helw violated Article 2 on general conditions and not "causing any damage" to animals, Article 4 on allowing animals "free movement" and giving them sufficient space. He also violated Article 5 and Article 11 of the law.

Regulations: Office alerted

Mona Al Shamsi, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) unit at the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water which oversees travel and trade permits for big cats and other threatened species, said the CITES office in Egypt has been alerted to the situation, and Al Helw will be blacklisted.

As per Egyptian Environmental Protection Agency (EEAA) legislations for travelling circuses, since February 2010, no cubs are to leave with any circus from Egypt. All animals listed as part of the travelling circus must be micro-chipped and animals can only leave through Cairo International Airport.