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United Arab Emirates

Some United Arab Emirates (UAE) citizens want to own exotic animals as a historical and cultural practice. Also, owning an exotic animal is perceived as signifying high social status. In December 2016, the UAE issued Federal Law No. 22 of 2016 imposing fines and jail time on individuals found guilty of owning, buying or selling all types of wild animals. Despite such restrictions, sales of wild animals moved from street markets to an online illegal market.

Animals in the UAE are not sold for human consumption by UAE citizens. However, there are many expatriates living in the UAE who might consume the meat of wild animals. Law No. 22 of 2016 prohibits the trading of all wild animals, dead or alive, and their meat as well.

The ministry of environment announced that it follows online ads for the sale of wild animals to find the location of the sellers. The Abu Dhabi and Sharjah provinces have implemented Law No. 22 of 2106 against the possession and trade of wild dangerous animals by issuing tickets against owners of wild animals and arresting individuals smuggling wild animals into the country.

I. Introduction

According to Hiba Al Shehhi, Acting Director of the Biodiversity Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE), some Emeriti citizens want to own wild animals as a historical and cultural practice. Also, owning a wild animal, such as a tiger, a lion or a panther, is perceived as signifying high social status.[1]

In December 2016, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued Federal Law No. 22 of 2016 imposing fines and jail time on individuals found guilty of owning, buying or selling all types of dangerous and wild animals. This legal measure has restricted the open sale of wild animals in street markets.[2]

Animals in the UAE are not sold for human consumption by UAE citizens. However, there are many expatriates living in the UAE who might consume the meat of wild animals.[3] Law No. 22 of 2016 prohibits the trading of all wild animals, dead or alive, and their meat as well.

Despite such restrictions, sales of wild animals moved from the street markets to an online illegal market. According to news reports, the online market of wild animals includes tigers, lions, cheetahs, and a huge variety of monkeys. Prices range from about Dh4,000 (about US$1,089) for a two-month-old baboon to more than Dh40,000 (about US$10,890) for a cheetah or a tiger.[4] Also, the online market offers reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and crocodiles.[5] There are some allegations that the illegal wildlife trade funds other types of illegal markets, such as human trafficking, drugs, and arms.[6]

Finally, given the secrecy of this illegal trade, there is no guarantee for the buyers that those wild animals undergo the necessary medical examination by a veterinarian to ensure that they are free of diseases.[7]

II. The Possession and Trade of Wild Animals

Federal Law No. 22 of 2016 on the possession of dangerous animals prohibits any person from owning or selling wild animals.[8] The Law requires any person who becomes aware of the existence of a wild dangerous animal that is in the possession of another to notify the MoCCAE or the closest police station.[9] If an entity (not a person) possess a wild animal, it must notify the MoCCAE if such animal is sick with an infectious disease.[10]

The Law subjects any person who possesses a wild animal with the intent to sell it to a term of imprisonment (the provision does not specify the length of imprisonment) and a fine between 50,000 and 500,000 Dh (between about US$13,612 and US$136,120), or either of those penalties.[11] The Law also subjects anyone who possesses a wild animal without the intent to sell it to a term of imprisonment between one to six months and a fine between 10,000 and 500,000Dh (between about US$2,722 and US$1,361,280), or either of those penalties.[12]

Finally, the Law includes a list of all banned animals that are labeled as “dangerous.” The list mentions the following animals: all types of rats, bats, bears, lions, and tigers, leopards, wolves, hyenas, aardvarks, pangolins, zebras, crocodiles, alligators, snakes and vipers, scorpions, and spiders.[13]

III. Enforcement

In an effort to combat the online illegal trade of wild animals, in conjunction with the communications authority, the MoCCAE announced that it follows online ads for the sale of wild animals to find the location of the sellers.[14]

Moreover, in the province of Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Urban and Municipal Planning Department announced that it issued 15 tickets against individuals who own wild animals in violation of the law.[15] Likewise, in the province of Sharjah, the Sharjah Environment and Natural Reserves Authority arrested a number of individuals for smuggling eight crocodiles illegally into the country. The arrest came as an implementation to Law No. 22 of 2016 prohibiting the trade and possession of wild animals in the United Arab Emirates.[16]

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Prepared by George Sadek
Foreign Law Specialist
August 2020


[1] Megha Merani, How Illegal UAE Wildlife Sales Have Shifted Online, Arabian Bus. (Feb. 16, 2019), https://perma.cc/RQH7-2UP2.

[2] All You Need to Know About the UAE’s New Animal Possession Laws—Graphic, The Nat’l (Jan. 11, 2017), https://perma.cc/5VQ8-AMLC.

[3] Immigrants comprise more than 90% of the UAE’s private workforce. Froilan T. Malit Jr. & Ali Al Youha, Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses, Migration Pol’y Inst. (Sept. 18, 2013), https://perma.cc/V6KF-5ENV.

[4] Nick Webster, Illegal Wildlife Trade Funneled Back to Organized Crime in the Region, The Nat’l (Dec. 23, 2018), https://perma.cc/5J8R-J67U.

[5] Amna Ehtesham Khaishgi, UAE Law on Wild Animal Possession ‘a Milestone,’ Activists Say, The Nat’l (Jan. 14, 2017), https://perma.cc/3RN8-N52D (in Arabic).

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] Majda Malawi, Department of Environment of Abdu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Law Prohibits the Sale and Purchase of Wild Animals, Al Bayan (Jan. 5, 2013), https://perma.cc/5PVH-DA4B (in Arabic).

[8] Law No. 22 of 2016, al-Jarīdah al-Rasmīyah (Official Gazette), vol. 609, 15 Dec. 2016, https://perma.cc/EH5U-DQ4E (in Arabic).

[9] Id. art. 9.

[10] Id. art. 10.

[11] Id. art. 19.

[12] Id. art. 20.

[13] Id. annex 1, list of dangerous animals.

[14] Despite the Ban on the Possession and Sale of Wild Animals, Those Animals Are Still Being Sold Online in Emirates, Siniar (Oct. 19, 2017), https://perma.cc/9CUZ-ZDLK (in Arabic).

[15] Ahmed Abed, A Fine Up to 10,000 Dhs: Violations by Owners of Animals in 15 Apartments and Villas, Al-Emarate Al Youm (Apr. 13, 2018), https://perma.cc/T8PU-MG8M (in Arabic).

[16] Emirates Thwarts a Smuggling Operation of Rare Birds and Crocodiles, Al Sarq Al Awsat (Aug. 22, 2019) https://perma.cc/27HA-4FSG (in Arabic).

Last Updated: 12/31/2020