It is a great day for big cats who have long being bought and sold as pets and status symbols — but only for some of them. A newly enacted law in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has finally put a long-awaited ban on the ownership and sale of big cats like tigers, cheetahs, leopards, and more as pets. This is a huge victory for big cats who have long been mistreated and neglected by owners who do not have the capacity to care for an animal whose rightful home is the wild.

Exotic pet ownership has long been an issue in the UAE, where it was not uncommon to see sights such as cheetahs running through the streets of Abu Dhabi and tigers being transported in cars.  According to Dr. Elsayed Mohammad, regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, “the big problem [with exotic pet ownership UAE] is driven by kids, teenagers. When we worked with kids before, we noticed that almost 100 percent of the kids had exotic pets at least once in their lives.” Instead of cats and dogs, it is common for children in the UAE to grow up with big cats.

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In 2011, the problem with exotic pet ownership was so bad that the city of Ajman issued a local order that banned the keeping of exotic animals in private homes. All violators were fined $2,700, but it is likely that this was not enough to deter the wealthy who kept these animals as pets. Thankfully, the federal government of the UAE recently stepped in to put a stop to the reckless sale and ownership of these wild animals.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, “UAE’s newly established restrictions are founded upon the principle that unpredictable, wild animals are simply not suited to be pets—they threaten public safety, and they often suffer at the hands of private owners who are not equipped to care for them.” Thanks to recent legislation, we will hopefully see a drop in the volume of wild animals whose lives are being bartered just so that somebody can say they live side-by-side with a dangerous animal.

Along with feelings of celebration, this recent move by the UAE government makes us wonder: when will the United States government finally put their foot down on this issue? As this point in time, there are more tigers living in U.S. backyards than in the wild. It is completely legal to keep big cats as pets in 20 states and seven of those states don’t even require a permit. Not to mention, the legality of keeping a big cat as a pet in the U.S. has a huge loophole — should the cat’s guardian claim that they exhibit their “pet,” they can obtain a license to do so through the USDA. While the USDA is required to monitor the conditions under which these animals are kept, they hardly have the manpower to keep track of the big cats, as that same branch is also required to look into living conditions for pet stores, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and other facilities that hold animals.

Due to this, big cats in the U.S. hardly stand a chance and tragically, many of them suffer from neglect. After all, with such lax rules around exotic pet ownership, many who purchase them do not realize how much care – and money – they require. The ignorance of big cat owners is just one piece of a very broken system — it is a problem that we could work to resolve if the U.S. federal government banned the ownership of big cats.

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Lead image source: Norrapat Teapnarin/Shutterstock