Owning exotic big cats and other endangered animals as pets is the ultimate status symbol for some in the United Arab Emirates.
But when the cubs reach adulthood and develop violent traits, many are abandoned.
A man in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), know as the “Lion Whisperer,” is dedicated to providing a home for these cats.
Jasim Ali adopts the lions, and other exotic and endangered animals and cares for them at a private reserve.
“I’m not afraid of them, these are all my friends, but now Timur is jealous because I’m playing with the hyena and not with him,” said Ali.
Owning an endangered animal as a pet is illegal in the UAE, but the trade in endangered wildlife remains a problem in the Gulf, where owning expensive exotic pets, especially big cats, is the ultimate status symbol.
A white lion sells for about $50,000 U.S. dollars on the black market.
In 2010, more than 200 illegally obtained animals were confiscated by authorities.
Most big cats are brought here at the Au Dhabi wildlife center.
“When someone buys a very expensive animal, he is boasting that he is rich enough to buy anything. If he has a tamed wild animal like a lion, he wants to show off that he is brave. But this is not courage, this is animal rights abuse,” said Ali.
While on the one hand seeing a magnificent wild animal like this in a small cage, basically in a private zoo, doesn’t quite feel right, just six months or a year ago they were chained to a tree, malnourished and abused.
Ali admits it is still difficult to see, even though they are in a better place than they were.
Ail says he’ll continue to rescue illegal animals – hoping his friends can one day roam free in a reserve.
Schams Elwazer, CNN The United Arab Emirates.