The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is well known for its wealth and passion for luxury, whether it is expensive imported cars, lavish hotels, extraordinary cuisine, or palatial homes. But thanks to the efforts of concerned and vocal citizens around the world, the luxurious cultural of the UAE will soon be missing one of it’s most well known status symbols: the ownership of exotic pets.
Now, when we think of exotic pets, we might imagine something like a small monkey (a little critter who shouldn’t be kept as a domestic pet, by the way!), but in the Emirates it can mean something quite different…and much larger. Truly exotic and dangerous animals, like tigers, jaguars, and lions have been seen getting in and out of luxury vehicles, roaming around private homes, and sitting quietly on leashes in hotel lobbies. And much to the joy of animal lovers and animal rights activities worldwide, the UAE finally said “enough!”
After the ownership of wild animals was finally outlawed, owning these types of “pets” will now be punishable by huge fines and even jail time. But what’s all the fuss about? We assume anyone who has the money to buy a tiger or a lion has the means to take care of it properly, right?
Well, no. Wrong. Our domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, have been selectively bred literally for millennia to trust and love us. They react to human stimuli; they enjoy our company and can sense our moods. This sort of long-term domestication takes hundreds of not thousands of years to create and maintain. Dogs thrive on human companionship; cats love nothing better than to snuggle up in our laps. But this is because their parents, their grandparents, and their great-great grandparents did so, too. Cheetahs and lions? Not so much. Even if they are capable of being trained (and the verdict isn’t out on that- because most experts maintain that they cannot) at what cost do we attempt to domesticate them? How do you punish a 200 pound cat if he pees on the floor, how do you tell a lion to get off the couch? In order to make these wondrous creatures adapt to the life of domesticity, unsavory and often violent methods of training are used.
Even if the owner is gentle and loving (and some owners probably are) it still isn’t fair to the animal. A lion or tiger is not a cat or a dog. While they are undoubtedly adorable as cubs, a full-grown big cat can weigh 200-500 pounds. Their bites generate about 1,000 pounds of force (as opposed to humans, who generate a measly 250 pounds). They have nutritional needs, exercise needs, and emotional needs that no private owner, no matter how well-intentioned, would ever be able to give them. With all of this sensory, nutritional and exercise deprivation, it’s no wonder that large wild animal kept as a pet in a home eventually act out.
And this tendency to act out, no matter how loving or sweet the animal appears, leads us to the final reason that the UAE did the right thing: wild animals kept in domestic situations pose an incredible danger to the public and even the owners themselves. We’ve all heard the stories of large primates one day becoming violent, seemingly without provocation. Human beings have even maimed and even killed by the wild animals they love and tried to domesticate. The animal is then always euthanized, and the public is always divided: half accuse the owner of stupidity (who would keep a chimp in their living room?) and the other half insist that something must have gone terribly wrong, that it was some sort of freak accident. Well, it’s not. Animal experts have been telling the rest of us for years: wild animals cannot be domesticated. Even with animals raised by humans since birth and infancy, their innate and irreversible tendencies to be what they are (wild animals!) does not disappear. We can bottle feed a cheetah and let it sleep in our bed since day one, but a cheetah is still a cheetah. While human intervention is sometimes necessary (in the case of abandoned or otherwise injured animals) the kind and responsible thing to do is to intervene as little as possible and then let the animal go. And why would we want to domesticate them? What is more majestic than these beautiful creatures thriving in their natural habitat?
We want to believe that animals, even wild animals, are secretly waiting for us to make contact with them and be their friends. With the anthropomorphization perpetuated in the movies we’ve all seen since childhood, we want to believe that in every lion there is a king, that in every fox there is a friend, and that in every dolphin there is a happy creature that really wants us to swim with him. But by trying to make these animals seem more human, we are doing them a grave disservice. And by treating lions and jaguars as just big versions of kitty cats, we are detracting from the very things that make them so special. The truth is that these animals are not pets, and while we can enjoy emotionally fulfilling and even loving relationships with wild animals, these creatures are best left in their natural environment to be enjoyed from afar.
Status and power are culturally important all over the world. From high end jewelry, purses, vehicles and mansions, the things we own and purchase tell a lot about what kind of living we make, what kind of money we earn, and what our priorities are. I think we can all agree, though, that living creatures are not status symbols. The United Arab Emirates has done a great thing for the world of animals by protecting them from us. Exotic and potentially dangerous wildlife do not belong in domestic situations. Not only for the safety and wellbeing of the animal itself, but for the safety and security of the human community at large.