DUBAI // Animal rights activists are calling on internet regulators to block access to classified websites that host advertisements selling tigers, lions and cheetahs.
The Middle East Animal Foundation has approached the Ministry of Environment and Water with a list of Dubai-based sites that host adverts selling anything from jaguars to Siberian tigers.
While it is illegal to buy or sell animals without the correct paperwork, it is not clear what the rules are with regards to hosting the adverts. Site owners have previously claimed they are not doing anything wrong.
"If there isn't already a law, there certainly should be," said Debbie Spalton, from the MEAF.
"If it's illegal to sell without the correct documentation, surely the website that is hosting these adverts must, by definition, also be breaking laws. I don't see how they can't be."
Last year, a survey carried out by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) showed 796 live animal advertisements posted on 11 websites.
None included documentary proof that those who placed them were complying with the law, while only 20.7 per cent of the ads said the necessary documents were available.
Certificates from Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, without which buying and selling animals is illegal, are issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water, and are issued only for legitimate breeding needs.
However, many adverts on sites claim that animals do have paperwork, although there are no photographs to prove it.
One advert on Dubailocalads.com, was offering cheetah, jaguar, white lion and tiger cubs for Dh3,000 each. The cubs were said to be "home raised" and from the third generation in captivity.
"They are potty trained and have all papers," the advert said. "They do love the company of kids and other pets."
The site administrators did not respond to a request for comment.
Another site, Dubai Moon Souq, has only one advert for an endangered species, a white tiger cub, for sale for Dh9,000. The owner of that site told The National two years ago that he was not aware that hosting adverts was wrong.
"If this is not allowed to be sold, we need someone from the municipality or the police to come and tell us this," he said at the time.
The local office of Cites has described the advertising of animals online as a legal "grey area".
In February, the UAE ratified the London Declaration on Wildlife Trade, which was hoped would bring about tougher rules on the online sale of big cats.
The ministry was unavailable for comment on what specific steps it was planning to take.
However, Dr Elsayed Mohammed, the Middle East regional director of Ifaw, said earlier this year he was aware of the authority drafting new rules in this respect.
Ms Spalton said animals such as tigers or lions currently being kept by private individuals should be rescued and given to a proper breeding programme.
"They belong in the wild," she said. "They don't belong in a cage to be let out on party night at the weekend and shown off to the neighbours.
"They're not a gimmick, nor should they be ridden like a horse," she said, referring to pictures of a Gulf national riding on the back of a lion that circulated on social media recently.
"It's a death sentence for an animal. When they get older, they get out of control. Suddenly they're not cute cubs to be put in the back of a Lamborghini.
"A lot of them end up in a sad situation and some of them get put down, because their owners can't handle them any more."