The private ownership of wild animals has been outlawed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where keeping exotic creatures as pets is a status symbol for some, according to local media reports.
Media reports said on Wednesday that the new law bans dealing in and ownership of all types of wild, domesticated and dangerous animals.
Wildcats including endangered cheetahs are known to have been domesticated in the UAE and neighbouring Gulf countries as status symbols, with some even spotted being taken outside in the middle of big cities.
In October, one such outing with five tigers on a beach near Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel was captured on video and went viral on social media, while others have been filmed driving around with lions.
Such animals can now only be kept at zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, breeding and research centres, Gulf News said.
"Anyone who takes a leopard, cheetah or any other kind of exotic animal out in public will face a jail term of up to six months and a fine" of up to 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), it added.
Al-Ittihad, an Arabic daily, said those who use wild animals to "terrorise" others would face jail or fine of up to 700,000 dirhams.
The move has been welcomed by animal welfare activists.
Elsayed Mohamed, regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Dubai, was quoted by Abu Dhabi-based The National newspaper as saying that the UAE had set an example for the GCC.
"We welcome and congratulate the UAE Government in taking this important initiative, which we wish to be a milestone for the rest of the countries, not just in the region, but also in the world,” he said.
The legislation also imposes new restrictions on traditional pets.
Dog owners are required to get permits and keep the animals on leashes in public, the reports said, adding that those who fail to obtain the licences face fines of up to 100,000 dirhams.
Source: News agencies