ABU DHABI // Spotting big cats is typically a bucket list highlight on safari, but Khalifa City A residents were given a taste of the wild when they saw a lion roaming the streets.
Residents reported a lion cub frolicking in the driveway and on the streets in front of a villa in Khalifa City A earlier this week. As awe was replaced with worry, witnesses took to social media to warn others of what they perceived to be a dangerous situation.
“I got the call from my friend, who was driving home and saw the lion on the street,” said Hein Botha, a South African. “By the time I got there, the lion was across the road and it walked back to the villa where it supposedly stays.”
Possession of exotic animals as pets in the UAE is a direct violation of federal law and could lead to fines of up to Dh500,000 and six months in prison for offenders.
Eyewitnesses phoned the police, who spoke to the villa owner who is said to have housed the lion cubs.
When Ronel Barcellos, manager of Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre, went to follow up the next morning, the answer she was given by police was confusing.
“We went to the police station to see if the lions were confiscated, and the police told us that the guy told them that the lions were sent to Dubai,” said Ms Barcellos.
According to the police report, the villa owner claimed to have sent the animal to Dubai before officers arrived.
The manager of the animal centre said she is pursuing the case and has confirmation from neighbours that the owner had two lions that he kept as pets in his private residence.
Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre has worked with the police and with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi to confiscate exotic animals such as lions and baboons ever since the law was implemented.
However, Ms Barcellos said that the law is still unclear and grey areas make enforcement difficult at times.
“There’s obviously grey areas but we worked and have confiscated illegal animals before, and our centre is geared to hold exotic animals until we find a solution,” she said.
According to the ministry, law specifies that exotic animals, if found, need to be transferred to a transitionary area, such as the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre, before being sent to a zoo in the UAE.
UAE is also a signatory to the CITES law 11, which makes private animal ownership illegal.