Claws out for big cat owners
Vet says exotic ‘pets’ are suffering as people can’t care for them
Cheetahs with deformities from being fed the wrong food and broken limbs from running into garden walls are among a growing number cases of negligence a Dubai vet said it is dealing with.
Staff at the British Veterinary Hospital said they have seen a “massive increase” in requests to treat exotic animals in recent years and have taken on two new vets to cope with demand.
Once the preserve of the wealthy, Dr Sara Elliott, the founder of the hospital, said it is now common to see the “general population” with exotic pets. Snakes and reptiles, which can be bought legally in pet stores, are the most popular but big cats such as cheetahs are no strangers to the staff.
A licence is currently needed to own exotic animals such as cheetahs, lions and tigers, but a law proposed by the Federal National Council would go further and ban ownership, with penalties such as jail and hefty fines for those who violate it.
Elliott said: “There’s always been a trend for exotics in Dubai, but it used to be the rich and the elite who had more exotics, but it’s now becoming more the general population.”
She said many owners lack the knowledge, money and space to properly care for their pets. Big cats kept in cramped walled gardens are a common problem.
She said: “Cheetahs will break their legs quite commonly. You have this superb animal that can travel at up to 110kph, but if they’re accelerating at that speed into a climbing frame or a brick wall, they’re likely to break something.
“These animals are a creature of speed and as soon as you keep them in an enclosed environment they’re likely to hurt themselves.”
Jessica Martin, Head Keeper at Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi, which takes in confiscated and abandoned animals, told 7DAYS she has seen a similar trend.
She said: “Sadly at least the rich have the resources to take care of them, whereas regular people don’t necessarily have the resources to care for them properly, so they’re using the wrong food, keeping them in the wrong space. Lions and tigers and cheetahs need lots of space – food requirements are difficult as well. “I picked up a cheetah one time from The Palm who had eaten quail its whole life, which gave it very bad bone deformities. “The owner thought he was doing the right thing but while quail meat is expensive, it has no calcium. There are those who know how to look after them properly – but they are very few and far between.”
COLOURFUL: The vets with a macaw and a cheetah cub