Lebanon has become a traffic hub of wild animals. Associations for the protection of nature are trying to attract the attention of the public about this animal welfare issue. Each year, thousands, if not tens of thousands of animals are brought illegally in the country, where they are sold, transferred, abandoned or abused.
Poor legislation, porous borders and the presence of a large Lebanese diaspora in Africa are making Lebanon a major hub for smuggling and illegal trade of wild animals such as lions, chimpanzees and parrots, say the militants.
“The situation is alarming,” said Sevine Zahran of NGOs Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA). “Pet stores sell everything that customers may request including vervet moneys and other primates, crocodiles or even endangered parrot species,” laments Ms. Zahran.
“There are also major concerns about the legislation, the lack of control by the government and public awareness. “
Lebanon is one of the few countries that has not ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In addition, the country has no law on animals that explicitly sanction trafficking and abuse.
“The unique situation of the country favors wildlife trade” believes Jason Mier, Executive Director of Animals Lebanon, a local orchestrating a campaign to pass legislation on animal welfare by the Parliament. But in a country paralyzed by a deep political crisis, animal rights are not a national priority, and support from the public is weak.
“We pay more attention to the plight of animals and wildlife than before, but there is still much to be done,” said Mr. Mier. Groups such as Beta and Animals Lebanon regularly come to the aid of dogs, cats as well as hyenas, baboons and lions. The fate of animals is unenviable in zoos, which often consist of a series of rusty cages lined up in the furnace of the Mediterranean sun.
Along the major roads in the country, there are baboons in dirty cages so small they cannot move in it. Or African gray parrots, endangered, in boxes with little or no ventilation.
In October, a young lion that lived on a balcony in an upscale center of Beirut has made the headlines. “Safeguarding Leo was fairly easy because the people who kept it have been very cooperative once we explained to them why he needed to live in his own natural environment and the risks they took in keeping him,” says Mier.
After an operation of 5000 dollars, Leo now lives in a shelter in Cape Town (South Africa). But another apartment in the capital continues to grow, because the lion cubs owner refuses to let them go in a shelter. He regularly posts photos of his lion apartment on Facebook.
Animals Lebanon has submitted a bill to Parliament in November, with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, to regulate the transportation and possession of animals, forcing zoos and firms to hold licenses.
Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: betalebanon.org
Animals Lebanon: animalslebanon.org