BEIRUT — It may well be one of the biggest animal trafficking operations ever foiled in Lebanon. More than 1,500 birds, an imperial eagle and two lion cubs, caged and undernourished, were found on Friday by a police patrol in Batroun, North Lebanon, caretaker Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan announced.
In a statement published on X (formerly Twitter), the minister said the animals "had been brought to Lebanon from Syria via an illegal crossing point." Some of them have been entrusted to the NGO Animals Lebanon, which has called on the authorities to "take stricter measures against the illegal wildlife trade," according to a statement sent by the NGO to L'Orient Today.
The work of a 'known trafficker'
In its press release, the Agriculture Ministry details the list of animals seized: 350 passerines, 1,350 exotic birds of various types, including an imperial eagle, and two lion cubs. "These animals had been brought to Lebanon from Syria via an illegal crossing point," the ministry adds.
At the time of the seizure, the animals were in cages and being transported by car.
After medical examination, some of the birds were released. Other birds, the eagle and the two lion cubs, have been entrusted to specialized associations, and their fate will be decided later, our correspondent in northern Lebanon, Michel Hallak, reported, citing Animals Lebanon and the Lebanese Association for Migratory Birds (LAMB).
The two lion cubs, a male and a female, have been handed over to Animals Lebanon, which states in its press release that the case has been forwarded to the Environmental Prosecutor of North Lebanon, Ghassan Bassil.
"The shipment appears to have come from a known wildlife trafficker involved in other cases," Animals Lebanon said. "Some of the birds were dead, and none were shipped in accordance with national legislation," the NGO added. As for the two lion cubs, "they were transported in small plastic cat boxes, with no litter, food or water available."
Animals Lebanon is also calling for a decision from the authorities "so that these two animals can be sent to an internationally accredited sanctuary."
"We call on the authorities to take stricter measures against the illegal wildlife trade, roadside zoos and the trade in exotic animals that fuel this traffic," Animals Lebanon concluded.
Lebanon adopted an animal rights protection law in 2017, which prohibits the possession of wild or endangered animals. The law, signed by then-Lebanese President Michel Aoun, also establishes rules for the possession of domestic animals, as well as regulations for zoos and pet shops, and, above all, sanctions against animal mistreatment.
Reporting contributed by Michel Hallak