By Justin Salhani
Grey parrots and vervet monkeys mingle with cats, dogs and hamsters in many of Lebanon’s pet shops, but if you want the really exciting animals, you have to ask behind the counter.
Lions, panthers and bears—in fact many of the mascots from the American sports franchises—are just a few of the animals you can buy here.
One pet store in Beirut—whose owner requested anonymity for fear of protests from animal rights groups—offers a chance at owning your own piece of the wild. The owner received a degree in veterinarian studies in Russia and, unlike many pet stores here, the six dogs strategically placed in the window are clean, healthy and vaccinated.
But these aren’t the only animals he sells. He can get you lion and bear cubs, leopards, even a baby crocodile. Sitting behind a tidy desk surrounded by bags of pet food, he describes the process of how a wild animal is ordered and smuggled into Lebanon.
It starts with a deposit (lions, for example, require a down payment of $1,000-$1,500). The pet store owner then puts in an order to a Lebanese middleman who contacts a farm in neighboring Syria, where lions are raised for sale. The animals are placed in boxes and loaded into taxis that head for the Lebanese-Syrian border. At the border the taxi driver will often bribe a guard around $10, usually saying there are dogs in the crates.
The pet store owner offers a video on his iPhone as proof of the process. In it a lion cub is jammed into a metal kennel most likely meant for domesticated dogs or cats. A man whose face is out of the frame kicks the cage. More....