By Natacha Yazbeck
Lebanon's animal rights activists are fighting to bring to national attention what they say are rampant trafficking and abuse, problems that are far from priorities in a country plagued with turbulence.
While there are no official studies, activists estimate thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of animals are smuggled into Lebanon annually, where they are sold, transferred to other destinations or subject to neglect or abuse.
"The situation is alarming," said Sevine Zahran of Lebanese non-governmental organisation Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA).
"Part of the problem is that pet shops will sell customers whatever they demand, whether primates, crocodiles or even endangered parrots," Zahran said.
"But there are also major problems with legislation, government control and public awareness and making the problem worse is the fact that non-native species are now breeding in Lebanon, too."
Lebanon is among a handful of countries not signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and lacks domestic legislation on animal rights which would regulate and unequivocally criminalise animal abuse and trafficking.
And with its lax laws, porous borders and a large diaspora in Africa, Lebanon is a prime target for the smuggling and illegal trade of wildlife such as lions, chimpanzees and parrots, activists say.
"Smuggling is not exclusive to Lebanon, but the unique positioning of Lebanon certainly helps," said Jason Mier, executive director of Animals Lebanon, a local animal rights group that is spearheading the campaign to see animal welfare legislation adopted by parliament.
But in a country plagued with political troubles and conflict, animal rights are far from a national priority and public support for the cause is minimal at best.
"While there's definitely more attention now to the plight of animals and wildlife in Lebanon, there is still a long way to go," Mier said. More....