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Lion cub: $5,000. Fine for mistreating it: $7. Better regulation: Priceless.

Lion cub: $5,000. Fine for mistreating it: $7. Better regulation: Priceless.

Lebanon is a haven for the illegal trade in exotic animals. But this could change if Beirut signs up to a convention on endangered species, which is currently convening in Qatar.

March 22, 2010 4:03 by

Lebanon is a haven for smugglers of endangered and exotic animals, mainly due to lax law enforcement, and the paltry fines faced by offenders.

It is hard to estimate the extent of this highly profitable business, but campaigners say it is the third largest illegal trade in the region, after weapons and drugs.

An army of smugglers deal in exotic species like rare parrots, young chimpanzees, gorillas and leopards. Other animals like elephants, lions, tigers, snakes, crocodiles can also be found for purchase in the Lebanese capital.

Many end up in the ‘private zoos’ of rich individuals in Lebanon and the Gulf. But some don’t quite make it. According to a report by AP, a two-year-old lion cub was rescued by members of local animal welfare organization BETA, after he was abandoned in Beirut by the owner of the pet shop that imported him. The group tried to save the severely dehydrated animal, but it died shortly after it was found.

The market price of the animals depends on their species, and consumer demand.

Mona Khoury, co-founder of Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA), tells Kipp that lions can be bought on the black market for $5,000, while a tiger is worth $6,000.

Yet the fine faced by owners who kill or abuse pets is miniscule: Penalties start at just LL10,000 ($6.66), and never exceed LL22,600 ($15).

That could be about to change. According to a report in the Daily Star, Lebanon could be set to join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), whose signatories are meeting this month in Qatar. It is the first time the convention is meeting in an Arab country; delegates from almost 150 countries have gathered in Doha for the March 13-25 conference. Lebanon and Bahrain are the only Arab countries yet to sign the convention.

But The Daily Star report was based on a press release issued by campaign group Animals Lebanon, whose officials were invited to sit in on talks between Beirut’s Agriculture Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and Willem Wijnstekers, the secretary general of CITES.

“The minister made it clear to the secretary general of CITES that he has every intention of having Lebanon join CITES within one year,” the organization’s president, Lana al-Khalil, said in the statement.

Let’s hope al-Khalil is right – and that this isn’t just wishful thinking.

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