By Vesela Todorova
The illegal trade in endangered and exotic animals is so lucrative that traffickers use smuggling methods that risk the animals' lives, experts said yesterday.
Smugglers commonly sedate young animals and carry them on board planes in hand luggage, said Dr Elsayyed Mohamed, the programme manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"Usually, the animals die, but because of the large profits, smugglers will take a chance in case one of them survives," said Dr Mohamed, whose organisation runs training seminars on how to combat wildlife smuggling.
However, alert customs officers can snare the most ingenious animal traffickers, said Mahdi Quatrameez, the head of wildlife enforcement at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan.
He gave the example of a smuggler who tried to bring rare birds into the United States tied to his shins, but was given away by the bird droppings on his shoes.
The two experts were speaking at the start of a five-day workshop in the capital for 60 police officers and municipal and customs officials at the forefront of efforts to curb the illegal trade.
Training enforcing officials is seen as key to tackling the issue.
"Most smugglers take the risk that they will not be inspected or the customs officer will not know about this," Dr Mohamed said.
The trade in rare animals and plants is regulated by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites).
Enforcing the convention is complex. It requires officers to recognise vulnerable species or groups of species, and there are different procedures depending on the degree of endangerment of an animal or plant.
Some animals may be traded across borders if their handlers have a Cites permit issued by the country of origin; others should not cross international borders unless they are to be used for scientific purposes.
Cheetahs and lion cubs, baboons, rare ornamental birds, houbara bustards and falcons are the species most frequently smuggled into the UAE.
The caviar of rare fish, reptile skins and items made of ivory are also traded here. Some of the smugglers find a market in the UAE with people keeping exotic pets at home and in private zoos; others re-export the rare creatures.
"The UAE is a centre for general trade and it offers infrastructure to promote trade. Naturally, they will attract a part of wildlife trade and part of it will be illegal," Dr Mohamed said. "We recommend more supervision and more inspectors to control this trade." More....