A bear looks on from his enclosure at a zoo in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Grace Kassab)
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Two zoos at the center of a government crackdown on illegal trade in big cats in Lebanon have taken the first steps to legitimize their status, but activists warned that there was still a ways to go to safeguard the welfare of exotic animals in the country.There are estimated to be 20-30 big cats in Lebanon. Some were smuggled into the country, while others were bred in captivity in Lebanon's zoos. Despite the rocky relationship between animal welfare activists and zoos, Animals Lebanon emphasized a desire to work with zoos to make improvements.The NGO claims Lebanese zoos – Animal City Lebanon and ZaZoo in particular – have not only sold exotic animals, but have helped fuel the trafficking of big cats by encouraging the desire to keep them as pets, allowing visitors to hold lion cubs and post photos on social media. The zoos have dismissed the accusations. Ahmad Jamaleddine, owner of ZaZoo City, has worked with zoos for 23 years.
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