NGO exposing the wild animal trade in Lebanon

Last week The Observer/France 24 reported on the lucrative wild animal trade occurring in Lebanon:

“Sales have skyrocketed in the last six months, but we don’t really know why,” Jason Mier, director of the NGO Animals Lebanon, told FRANCE 24. His group has been fighting animal trafficking for years. Lebanese Internet users pose with newly bought lions on social media as if they were puppies. It’s easy to find ads for wild animals on sites like OLX, the Lebanese equivalent of Ebay. A bear cub can sell for $6,000 while a baby tiger might be priced at $25,000.

“In just the last six months, we’ve heard about four lions, two tigers, one leopard and at least six bear cubs. A lot of people are taking action against this just by letting us know about ads they see on social media, or about animals they’ve seen on the street or at the airport,” Mier stated.

“Our NGO has no legal power. We can’t confiscate animals from their owners. Our role is just to let the authorities know—in this case the Agriculture Minister—and give them all the information that we have so that they can begin an investigation and possibly remove the animal, and then we can take care of it. Unfortunately, even when the police have taken action, it’s never led to legal action and the owner of the animal gets off without even paying a fine. So we’re trying to push the government to be tougher and to not let people get away with this. If there was a lawsuit it might teach people a lesson.

On the other hand I know that the authorities have good intentions. Lebanon became a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in 2013. An animal protection law has been drafted and will be debated in the Lebanese parliament. But with the current political instability Lebanon has gone two years without a president; you understand that that kind of legislation isn’t considered a priority. It’s hard to assert animal rights in that context.

A young lioness named Queen was picked up by Mier’s NGO in critical condition. Her two back feet were broken and she had to undergo two operations. She died less than a year after being confiscated from her owner.

People buy these animals to show off. They’re rich, and $20,000 isn’t an exorbitant sum for them. They’re prepared to pay that amount if it means they’ll get a lion cub that they can walk down the street like a little dog, just to get attention. Some buyers don’t even realize that it’s dangerous for the animal, who isn’t meant to live under those conditions. Other people know but don’t care. What they all have in common is that they don’t think about the long-term consequences and the fact that the animal can become dangerous over time. Plus they give it cooked meat instead of raw meat and keep it in a dark space, to try to tame it. But most of the animals die before they even reach two years old, since they’re forced to live in conditions that aren’t at all appropriate for wild animals. We often get felines in horrible condition: they have broken paws because they’ve been deprived of exercise and are chained up in tiny spaces, sometimes even on the balcony of an apartment.” Mier explained.

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