Claws out for big cat own­ers

Vet says ex­otic ‘pets’ are suf­fer­ing as peo­ple can’t care for them

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Shoshana Ke­dem @B_shosh

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

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