DUBAI: Animal welfare issues in Saudi Arabia were brought to the fore again after a video of a group of youths appearing to torture a dog by lighting a firecracker inside its rectum went viral on social media, prompting calls to punish offenders. .
A hashtag, which translates from the original Arabic as “punish the one who burns animals,” trended for several days on social media platforms, with users calling for rules prohibiting animal cruelty to be more rigorously enforced. .
Saudi Arabia has strong animal protection laws, having signed the Gulf Cooperation Council Humane Treatment of Animals Act in 2013.
However, according to animal welfare advocates who spoke to Arab News, the implementation of the laws has yet to catch up with the intent.
The Kingdom takes the abuse and mistreatment of animals very seriously. Under Saudi law, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture can impose a fine of SR50,000 ($13,300) for the first offence, which is doubled for the second offence.
The third and fourth instances of abuse incur fines of SR200,000 and SR400,000 respectively. In more serious cases, violators can lose business licenses or even face prison terms.
The ministry “has provided, through its website, a way to report any abuse or torture, and these reports are treated seriously,” lawyer Waleed bin Nayef told Arab News in October 2021, adding that it was enshrined. a strong animal welfare system in the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.
The law provides extensive protections for animals, including items that require pets and livestock to be provided with adequate facilities where they are handled by an adequate number of qualified personnel who have the necessary skill, knowledge, and professional competence in matters of animal welfare. .
It also obliges animal keepers to feed them in sufficient quantities according to their species and age, to keep them in good health.
Governments around the world have recognized the importance of protecting animals, in part because animal abuse often occurs alongside other forms of interpersonal violence toward humans and property.
In the US, data collected by the FBI supports the view that addressing animal cruelty can help reduce other crimes, such as aggravated assault and vandalism.
“Some studies say that animal cruelty is a precursor to major crime,” said Nelson Ferry, who works in the FBI’s Crime Statistics Management Unit, in a statement highlighting the bureau’s work in the area.
But neglect and cruelty to animals are believed to be common in the Kingdom, and while the law is occasionally enforced, most abuses, even documented ones, remain unpunished, according to Saudi animal welfare advocates.
The 2021 Animal Rights Index, created by San Francisco-based data firm The Swiftest, ranked Saudi Arabia 50th out of 67 countries. That year, only 29 offenders of the Animal Welfare Law were fined.
“This is what you get when you have a government agency that acts as the legislative branch that writes animal welfare laws and at the same time acts as the police and enforces the law. In addition, it acts as the judge that determines the punishment and it is the same agency that benefits from paying for those violations,” Princess Moudhy bint Fahd Al-Saud, director of the Saudi Society for Animal Welfare, told Arab News in the context of the Reports of abuse to animals.
“Vision 2030 will include the full implementation of animal rights if we get the direct attention of our blessed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just as he did to reform other government agencies and steer them towards providing social services to match the Vision. . We have the necessary laws. We just have to implement them.”
Animal abuse and neglect are alleged to be especially common in Souq Al-Hammam, south of Riyadh.
Animal lovers regularly share horrifying videos allegedly showing kittens, puppies and rabbits sold in the souk crammed into small metal cages in the scorching heat with no food or water.
The market has been operating for more than 20 years despite repeated calls to shut it down. Animal lovers say some stores are even selling wild animals like desert foxes, monkeys and other exotic species, defying Saudi laws that ban the practice.
“Despite not complying with the law adopted by the Kingdom and violating many others in terms of general animal welfare, Souq Al-Hammam continues to function and operate,” Abdullah Al-Senani, member of the Saudi animal welfare NGO Rahmah he told Arab News.
He said Saudi authorities usually spring into action when videos of alleged abuse in the souk are trending on social media, but “no action has been taken to close pet shops there.”
His fellow animal welfare advocate Faisal Chalabi describes the situation in the market as “horrible for animals and for any animal lover”. He told Arab News: “I am afraid to go to this area, but I have had to on several occasions.”
Chalabi said he sent several reports to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture about allegations of abuse, but says he never received a response.
“I recently sent the footage to a friend who has been gathering enough evidence to make a case against all these inhumane rapists and hopefully criminalize and ban the sale of animals in such conditions and in the souk altogether,” he added.
Animal Paws, another Saudi NGO that has also been collecting images and photographic evidence of alleged abuse in the souk, recently published disturbing images of dying animals discarded by shop owners.
Despite signs of growing public awareness, animal shelters are still rare in Saudi Arabia, forcing those who want to help to house large numbers of rescued animals in their own homes.
Chalabi said she currently has more than 50 cats and dogs in her home. “I think it was a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot to be done in terms of animal rights,” he added.
“After all, in Islam and through the teachings of the prophet, we have been commanded to show compassion, empathy and mercy.”
Social media has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to animal welfare in Saudi Arabia.
Although these platforms have allowed Saudis to easily expose abuse, some people have also used them to share videos of animal exploitation for entertainment purposes.
“Especially on TikTok, some Saudi users have been exploiting animals to use and abuse them for likes,” an animal keeper, who did not want to be identified, told Arab News. “There is a lack of education.”
Social media can also play a role in complicity in the illicit trade of wildlife and exotic pets. “Some breeds are brought in from abroad and we end up seeing them on the streets or eventually selling them in the souk,” the Saudi animal keeper said.
In general, however, social media has become a useful weapon in helping to raise awareness of animal cruelty.
“Many people in the community are starting to be active for animal welfare,” the Saudi said. “I see more people adopting. Even my uncle, who did not accept pets, has been feeding stray animals in his neighborhood. The community has been contributing to treat and house animals.”
In the interests of achieving their vision of a humane society, the Saudi NGOs say, protecting animals should be high on the government’s agenda.
“Saudi Arabia is heading towards being a modern and cultured society, and animal welfare should be at the top of the list,” the animal keeper told Arab News, summarizing his thoughts on the matter.
“If you are not kind to the weakest creature, you are simply not kind.”