Can UAE residents keep exotic animals at home?

The country repeatedly urges residents to refrain from owning wild or exotic animals, and imposing hefty fines of up to Dh500,000 for violators


Waad Barakat

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Published: Tue 7 May 2024, 6:28 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 May 2024, 3:35 PM

A recent video capturing a wild cat roaming near a residential area in Fujairah has sparked concerns and triggered an investigation by the emirates' environmental authority. Today, the authority announced that the wild cat has been captured and belonged to a person. This has in turn, raised questions regarding the legality of keeping wild animals as pets in the UAE.

Despite the UAE repeatedly urging residents to refrain from owning wild or exotic animals, and imposing hefty fines of up to Dh500,000 for violators, a trend in such ownership has emerged, prompting experts to shed light on the matter.

A similar incident occurred in 2021, when some Dubai residents were arrested for owning and possessing eight wild animals. All eight animals, including lion cubs and a rare monkey were seized by Dubai Police. In the same year, a wild animal was spotted in the Springs 3 community. Leaving community residents in panic, as a viral video showed a 'jaguar' on the loose in what looks like a villa garden. The police later said that the animal was a "domestic cat" and not a wild animal.

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Khaleej Times spoke to Barney Almazar, director of Gulf Law in the UAE, Philippines, UK, and Portugal. Barney provided insights into wild animal ownership in the UAE.

Almazar says, "As a general rule, keeping dangerous animals as pets is not only discouraged but prohibited in the UAE." He emphasised that the country has stringent regulations in place to control the ownership and trade of wild animals, ensuring the safety of both the animals and the public.

Regarding the specific laws and regulations, Almazar said that the "Federal Law 22 of 2016 (law on regulating the possession of dangerous animals) defines Dangerous Animals as animals that cause harm or damage to humans or other animals."

He further added, "It’s illegal and prohibited to own, possess, trade, or breed dangerous animals." However, Almazar highlighted that exceptions are made for authorised facilities such as zoos, animal parks, circuses, breeding centres, and scientific research institutions that comply with specific requirements.

The attorney mentioned examples such as "big cats (such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs), bears, primates, certain species of snakes, crocodiles, and other large or dangerous animals." On the other hand, he noted that smaller and less dangerous species are generally allowed, including "some breeds of dogs and cats, certain species of birds, non-venomous snakes and lizards, small mammals like hedgehogs and small rodents, and fish."

Highlighting the potential fines or penalties for individuals found with illegal wild animals, Almazar outlined the severity of the consequences. “Whoever possesses a dangerous animal for trade shall be punished by imprisonment, or a fine of not less than Dh50,000 and not more than Dh500,000,” he said.

Other regulations also apply if the animal attacks another person while it is possessed by a resident. “Imprisonment for no less than three years and no more than seven years if the animal attacks another resident and has caused a permanent disability. The penalty shall be life imprisonment if the attack was fatal," explained Barney.


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