Rich kids parade their private jets, luxury shopping hauls and magnums of champagne on social media. Arab kids are no strangers to it. As if this is not enough, they have cheetahs and tigers as their pets. Rich kids in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar prefer to show off their wealth with weapons and very dangerous animals. An exotic creature such as a cheetah cub, a monkey or even a tiger is the preferred pet of the nation’s wealthy elite. Amused by illegally owning exotic animals, wealthy Kuwaitis encourage a destructive trade; in the wild, less than 7,100 cheetahs remain. Shahad al-Jaber, a 32-year-old Kuwaiti, widely followed on social media proudly calls her two 80-cm-tall African cheetahs her “babies” Followed by more than 15,000 fans on Instagram, Jaber bought both Mark and Shahad through an illicit network that smuggled them from Africa in April 2013 and February 2014, respectively, for a little more than $3000 each. While proudly showing off her cheetahs on Instagram, she claims she spends an average of $350 a month to feed and care for them. While owning exotic wild animals is illegal in Kuwait, Jaber is not afraid of the authorities because she has wasta, a popular term in Arab countries meaning “influence”. Patricia Tricorache, assistant director for the Illegal Wildlife Trade Cheetah Conservation, has led long investigations into the smuggling of cheetahs across the Arabian Peninsula. According to her estimation, 300 young cheetahs are sent illegally every year from Ethiopia, Somalia and the north of Kenya, to pass via Yemen before heading towards Kuwait or other Gulf countries. And its not like those are these wild animals never become victim. At the end of 2014, the lion of a popular owner of exotic animals mauled a Filipina maid that died from her wounds a few days later. Her death provoked outrage across Kuwait. According to a report published by animal protection group Born Free USA, From 1990 until 2011, there were 1610 incidents worldwide where a pet attacked its owner, with 75 reported fatalities. Wild cats are known to have been domesticated in Kuwait and neighbouring Gulf countries, with some even spotted being taken outside in the middle of big cities. Last year, a tiger was spotted roaming a motorway in the Qatari capital Doha.
In January, the UAE outlawed the private ownership of exotic wild animals, including cheetahs and tigers, after mounting pressure from animal welfare groups. Penalties include jail for up to six months and a fine of up to $136,000. Prior to the law, a video with five tigers running on the beach near Dubai’s Burj al-Arab hotel had gone viral.
Animal rights activists often give numerous cases with addresses, telephone numbers and other information, but authorities, leaving Dubai aside, rarely acted on it. They caution that only a grave disaster will wake up authorities.