A 2-year-old lion, emaciated and barely breathing, is found in a tiny cage off a Beirut highway. Monkeys are hauled through the dark tunnels of Gaza, bound for private zoos. Rare prize falcons are kept in desert encampments by wealthy Arab sheiks.
The trade in endangered animals is flourishing in the Middle East, fueled by corruption, ineffective legislation and lax law enforcement.
"It's a problem in the Arab world that we can no longer ignore," said Marguerite Shaarawi, co-founder of the animal rights group Animals Lebanon.
The group is pushing for Lebanon to join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, whose signatories are meeting this month in Qatar. It is the first time the 175-nation convention is meeting in an Arab country.
Lebanon and Bahrain are the only Arab countries yet to sign the convention.
Delegates at the U.N. conference are considering nearly four dozen proposals on a range of endangered species from rhinos to polar bears.
John Sellar, chief enforcement officer for CITES, said it is difficult to estimate the extent of the illegal trade in the Arab world, but Animals Lebanon estimates that it is the third largest illegal trade in the region, after weapons and drugs.
"Much of the illegal trade that takes place here is of a specialized nature," Sellar said, citing the example of prize falcons, kept by many Arab sheiks in desert encampments, particularly in the United Arab Emirates. More....