The crate was in the airport’s customs hall. It was less than a third of a cubic metre in size. Inside were three young Siberian tigers infested with hundreds of maggots. They had been illegally imported into Lebanon. The destination was in fact Syria, believe it or not. This may sound unlikely but the war in Syria has created chaos. This makes it easier for those involved in the illegal importation of big cats as pets.
The Ukraine has a history of breeding wild animals for export to people who want to keep them as pets. It is believed that these tigers came from a breeding program in Ukraine.
The three young tigers have been rescued. They are the lucky ones. We are told the tigers were stuck at the airport for seven days until a judge made an order for their release into the custody of a local rescue organisation (as I understand it). An animal welfare campaigner, Jason Mier, has taken charge of the tigers.
Often the animals don’t make it. The Times Newspaper reports that there is a craze in Lebanon for big cats as pets and they are being smuggled into the country against international regulations. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species puts the maximum fine for animal cruelty at $15. And yet in Lebanon where exotic animals are sold online a white lion cub sold for $16,000 and an ordinary lion cub is valued at $5000 and $10,000 for an adult.
Over the last year there has been a significant increase in the number of young animals being brought into Lebanon. We know about the craze in general in the Middle East for keeping exotic big cats as pets. An example is Dubai’s Crown Prince who has a favourite pet (against Dubai law): a white tiger which he calls Elsa. Not a good example for his subjects.
The rising popularity of big cat pets in Lebanon goes against the grain because other countries in the region have begun to take action against this practice. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) banned the keeping of wild animals as pets in January 2017. The ban appears to have arisen out of complaints about big cats running amok in public places.
As for the three young tigers, a decision is yet to be made as to where they will end up. It is terribly regrettable that this is happening. It is truly time that the Middle East stamped out this graze and, importantly, it is time that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is updated and enforced. This treaty is a complete failure as far as I am concerned. The international trade in live animals and body parts is worth $15 billion annually; pretty much all of it is illegal.