Middle East Eye: Meet the Kuwaitis who live with their pet cheetahs – This has to stop!

Shahad Al Jaber, 32, gives a kiss to a cheetah in Kuwait, on January 30, 2017. For about four years, she owns in her appartment a male cheetah (Mark) and a female cheetah (Shahod). Al Jaber shares her daily life with her cheetahs, that she consider as her pets. “I love them more than anything, more than my potential future children” she said. In Kuwait, although it is strictly illegal, dozens of people own exotic pets such as cheetahs, tigers, lions, panthers, leopards, snakes, crocodiles etc. Many of them don’t get into trouble because they have the Wasta, an Arabic word that refers to using one’s influence or connections to getting things done. Used to show off and gain social prestige, these wild animals are often smuggled into Kuwait by land or flight. However, the trend is not limited to Kuwait. Other Gulf countries as UAE, Qatar and Saudi face such issue. Early January 2017, the United Arab Emirates has outlawed the private ownership of exotic wild animals, including cheetahs, and will fine or jail anyone caught parading them in public. Globally, illicit animal trafficking is a $10 billion industry. After the drugs and weapons trade, animal trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit sector in the world.

Amused by illegally owning exotic animals, wealthy Kuwaitis encourage a destructive trade; in the wild, less than 7,100 cheetahs remain

KUWAIT CITY – In the basement of a building in Kuwait city, two 80cm-tall African cheetahs sluggishly play with a ball next to a table. Shahad al-Jaber, a 32-year-old Kuwaiti, smiles proudly. “They are my babies. I would prefer them to my children if I had any, I’m sure.”

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.

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