A four-month-old lion has run loose in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and security forces have launched a sweeping search operation to find him.
Police said they received a call on Thursday night from a man claiming that he his lion escaped from his house, adding that search teams were deployed across the city but that no “missing animal” was yet found.
In the rich Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, endangered animals like lions, cheetahs, hyenas and monkeys are sometimes found in in the private collection of wealthy individuals and families as status symbols.
Most of the governments prohibit the trade of endangered animals, but a smuggling trade is believed to be active across the border with Yemen.
According to a recent report by the Guardian, the price of lion cabs can reach more than $13,000 (50,000 Saudi riyals) apiece and that “animal trafficking represents an enormous opportunity to people in one of Yemen's poorest regions.”
“A loose network has sprung up, trading not just lions but also cheetahs, leopards, gazelles, hyenas and monkeys,” according to the report.