JEDDAH: What happened to taking your kids to a pet store to buy a small fish or a canary as a pet? It seems those days are over, with a video of a young Saudi Arabian girl taking her cheetah for a walk.
The footage, which shows a girl of around 10 struggling to control the fat cat after letting her out of a car, has sparked outrage and calls for action on social media.
To add to the confusion, the animal’s owner deliberately shared the video in defiance of the National Center for Wildlife’s warnings against keeping wild animals, often referred to as exotic animals.
The authority has repeatedly refused to provide licenses for the possession of exotic pets and warned that in coordination with the Home Secretary, owners of predatory animals could be sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and fines of up to SR 30 million ($ 7.9 million).
This is not the first time that wild animals have been seen on the streets or in the backyards of Saudi homes.
Often, animals are smuggled into the Kingdom or reared in secret. Videos of lions appearing to playfully leap at their owners have been circulating for years.
Social media platforms, especially TikTok, are riddled with videos of lions, cheetahs and other wildlife kept as pets.
As more Saudis ignore warnings and defy orders, authorities reiterate that they do not issue permits for wild animals such as lions, tigers and bears. Residents of Jeddah were alarmed to discover alligators living and roaming free near Lake Al-Arbaeen, south of the city, after the reptiles passed their homes and were thrown by their owners.
The owners living near the man-made lake called on the authorities to remove the creatures.
Last April, a 22-year-old Saudi man bled to death after being attacked by his pet lion.
In April 2019, the director of the Saudi Wildlife Authority’s licensing department, Bandar Al-Faleh, told Arab News that specific measures banned the keeping of animals such as big cats and wolves as animals. company. “There is no license to own predators,” he said.
Al-Faleh said a royal decree prohibits the importation of these animals for personal or commercial purposes. “Owning a predator is illegal,” he said. Saudi Arabia’s animal welfare laws state that owners are responsible for the care and welfare of their animals and must take precautions to ensure pets do not suffer any harm, pain or suffering.
Owners must also provide appropriate facilities and living conditions for animals.
“Wild animals belong to nature,” said Loulwa Almarshad, a Saudi activist and volunteer with animal rescue organizations.
“It’s not fair to trap animals this way and it’s unrealistic to domesticate them. Cheetahs are predators and like all big cats, they will follow their instincts and attack if they feel the need to – it’s part of their nature. It is cruelty to animals.
Almarshad has documented and reported cases of animal abuse for years, complaining to authorities about unacceptable business activity and campaigning to prevent vets from operating on animals to reduce their threat level – by declawing or defanging them. big cats, for example.
“Unfortunately, this trend is not unique to the Kingdom – you see it everywhere, and some are showing these pets as a sign of how much money they have,” she said.
“It’s only when something bad happens that they throw them away, and often animals fall victim to this form of abuse.”
The Kingdom has banned the hunting and keeping of wild animals as pets, and a 2018 law banned practices deemed harmful to animals, including declawing and tail trimming.
As Saudi authorities pledge to remain vigilant and impose heavy fines on owners of predatory animals, walking a pet cheetah can become risky in more ways than one.