The youngsters squeal with delight as the clearly agitated animal leaps in frustration from one metal bar to the next.

"It's not cruel keeping it like this," insists the shop owner.

The two-year-old baboon, probably brought into Jordan from its natural habitat in the Arabian Peninsula, is on sale for $560.

Next to the baboon is an even smaller cage containing a litter of black and white puppies that are practically lying on top of each other. Further along, a Siamese cat claws at the cardboard flooring of its pen not much larger than a shoebox.

The pet shop will continue to trade as Jordan has no animal protection laws and because the notion of animal welfare is low on the priority list for people in this part of the world.

Changing attitudes

Jordanians are often mystified at how sentimental Westerners can be towards animals. Few people in the kingdom keep pets. Dogs, for example, are widely seen as dirty and unhygienic.

But attitudes are slowly changing, according to the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPANA), a charity that works in Jordan as well as the rest of the Middle East.

Most Jordanians are ignorant
about animal welfare

"It's important to stress that animals suffer here through ignorance and not through malice," says Dr Ghazi Mostafa, director of the charity's Jordanian branch.

"We are gradually helping to educate people to take better care of animals and to respect them more."

But old habits die hard and Jordanians often treat animals poorly. Some throw boiling water onto a horse's stomach to cure food poisoning. Others slice off its ears to "bleed out" an illness.

SPANA has started to branch out from just providing free veterinary care, opening an educational centre last year to give schoolchildren a "hands-on" learning experience.

As well as recreating Jordan's various natural habitats, the centre houses donkeys, rabbits and birds which youngsters can handle and feed.

SPANA hopes that children visiting the centre will learn that animals, such as those kept in Jordan's pet shops, should be treated humanely.