BEIRUT: Lebanon must catch up with neighboring states and enact animal rights legislation, a local animal welfare organization said this week.
“Gandhi once said that a nation’s greatness is measured by the way it treats its animals,” said Lana Khalil, president of Animals Lebanon, at a conference on Wednesday.
“As human beings we inherited this incredible planet, and along with this inheritance came great responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is respecting the environment and all the living beings including the animals which share life on this planet.”
The call for greater respect for animal welfare comes ahead of a summit for signatories of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which takes place in Qatar from 12-25 March.
Lebanon and Bahrain are the only Arab states that have not signed the 1975 convention, a document to which 175 states are party. Nevertheless, Lebanon is technically obliged to monitor any trade of animals between countries that have ratified the convention.
Because of a lack of training in animal policing in Lebanon, however, it is an easy base for animal smugglers to import and export endangered species. Elephants, big cats and chimpanzees are just some species known to have been smuggled in and out of Lebanon.
As recently as September 2009, a lion cub was discovered abandoned in a cage in a Beirut alleyway. The severely dehydrated animal, which had been kept illegally, died shortly after.
There are also a large number of private zoos where endangered species are kept without proper care or safety precautions, campaigners have said.
“I call on all Lebanese and every humanitarian to implement international laws like CITES to protect and preserve animals,” said Khalil. She said that Lebanon had always enjoyed a reputation as the “pearl of the Middle East:?because of its natural beauty.
“Let us agree today to add one more attribute to Lebanon which is: Lebanon not only believes in human rights but also animal rights,” Khalil implored.
In December 2009, group Animals Lebanon raised alarm bells over the Egyptian Monte Carlo circus, which had set up base in Beirut’s Dora suburb. The circus was found to have entered Lebanon without the correct paperwork and with several of its animals in need of urgent veterinary treatment.
In early January, Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan declared the circus illegal and ordered it be closed immediately. He also ordered the circus to leave Lebanon, but as of Friday evening, the animals and employees of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Hussein Akef, were still in Beirut.
During the conference, Animals Lebanon circulated documents showing the Akef family’s less than exemplary behavior in Africa. Articles from Zambian newspaper Zambia Daily Mail and the New York Times suggest the family was involved in the smuggling of endangered species, and at one point had six smuggled chimpanzees seized from them.
Documents shown earlier to The Daily Star also show the family had their animals confiscated in Mozambique over concerns for their welfare.
“I would like to emphasize that our goal as an organization or as individuals was never to antagonize the circus managers in any way, shape or form,” said Ali Hemadeh, Beirut representative of the Syndicate of Vetenarians. “All we set out to do was implement the basic rules of humane animal treatment.”
Hemadeh said Animals Lebanon was cooperating with the Agriculture Ministry, animal experts and the Syndicate of Veterinarians to develop animal welfare laws.
The organization has submitted an application to the ministry to hold a national conference on animal welfare. European Commission officials will also attend the conference, expected to take place in April or May, to explain European legislation on animal welfare and how it can be adapted to suit Lebanon, said Jason Meir, Executive Director of Animals Lebanon.