Abu Dhabi: At least 14 per cent of pet shops in the UAE are in poor condition with low levels of animal welfare standards, according to a survey conducted by the UAE CITES Scientific Authority at Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) last year.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) officers conducted the wildlife pet-trade survey in all seven UAE emirates in order to assess the status of the live animal pet-trade.

According to the survey, 36 per cent of pet shops were in excellent condition with a high standard of animal welfare, 50 per cent were in good condition with a good level of animal welfare and 14 per cent were in poor condition with a low level of animal welfare standards.

Illegal trade

CITES is an international agreement between governments to curb illegal trade of wild animals and plants. It currently has 172 member nations including the UAE.

Abdul Nasser Al Shamsi, head of the CITES Scientific Authority said: "The survey is the first of its kind and provided us with baseline data for future surveys. Any trends in the live wildlife trade within the UAE can be scientifically compared and evaluated."

"Results were satisfactory and the levels of awareness were good but there is room for improvement. While 60 per cent of the pet shops knew about CITES, the rest admitted ignorance," he said.

CITES officers visited 39 pet shops belonging to two main categories. First were the traditional pet shops known as souq haiwanat (animal market) which are found in areas specially designated by municipalities.

These sell aquarium fish, pigeons, quails, ducks, chickens, dogs and cats. The second category is modern pet-shops, located in high-end shopping malls, with better hygiene and welfare standards.

Admitting that the general conditions of pet shops and welfare standards need to be improved, Al Shamsi said that his department would work in coordination with relevant local government authorities to implement strict inspection measures.

"There is also a draft Federal Law on animal welfare in preparation and this will enable the enforcement of stricter welfare standards for live animals," he said.

While the annual international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, smuggling of various species is a reality being dealt with by the authorities through stringent monitoring. "Most smuggling takes place in winter," Al Shamsi said.

The survey showed that the live animal trade involving CITES-listed species is mainly concentrated in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai. The other emirates have only a limited trade involving live CITES-listed species.

The most commonly sold wildlife is birds followed by reptiles, invertebrates and fish and mammals.

Concern

An unhygienic environment, lack of nutrition, stress and improper temperature conditions exist in some pet shops in Abu Dhabi, causing slow deaths for many of the animals being sold, says Ecatherina Bodros, an animal researcher and activist.

Bodros has been visiting pet shops unannounced for two years and is speaking up on some of the conditions she's encountered in the process.

"I feel pity and compassion for these animals. I have seen some horrible and cruel things. Pet shop owners try to run their shops in the cheapest way possible.

"Guinea pigs and hamsters, for instance, are meant to be placed in a wooden boxes and kept in isolation. Instead they are kept in bird cages with nothing to protect them from heat or cold. We tried to convince them to place the animals in wooden boxes but nothing was done," she said.

According to Bodros, many animals are fed rice. "Shop owners think that if cats cost Dh50, why should they invest in a cat food can for Dh5? If a dog costs Dh200 why should they spend Dh100 for consultation and treatment if it gets sick?"

If animals such as fish, turtles, rabbits, dogs, cats and birds require medicine, some pet shop owners were said to give them medicine for cows, which make them sicker. If the animals are not cured they are disposed while still alive.

Cats suffering from ring worm, a bacteria that eats the skin, are also commonly witnessed in pet shops. New-born puppies are being removed from their mothers too early and end up dead in their small boxes. Some of these puppies are placed outdoors in summer, and die from the heat.

- Dina El Shammaa, Staff Reporter