Wildlife trafficking has become one of the major conservation issues of our time and the sinister illegal trade in cheetahs is increasingly coming to the attention of conservationists. Unlike leopards, the main trade in cheetahs is not a consequence of the desire for beautiful spotted skins to decorate the house, nor is it a response to the demand for traditional medicines in Asia, as is often the case with tigers and lions. Instead it belongs to the exotic, wild animal pet trade.
Those words ‘wild animal’ and ‘pet’ already point to one major issue at stake here; wild animals like cheetahs cannot rationally be kept to their dying days, as is sometimes reported, within the confines of someone’s living room. Cheetahs in particular need more space than almost any other terrestrial carnivore, so confinement within a home represents the most unnatural restriction.
More significantly, the species is listed by the IUCN Red List as vulnerable. Its vulnerability to extinction was already clear due to threats including the loss and fragmentation of their habitat, persecution by livestock owners, and reduction in their prey species, so the illegal wildlife trade compounds an existing list of troubles for the cheetah.
The low density at which the species naturally occurs means that the removal of a few individuals from the wild could have serious consequences for the continued existence of local cheetah populations. The Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs (RWCP) fears that large parts of northeast Africa currently targeted for supplying the live trade—places like Somalia, eastern Ethiopia and South Sudan—coincide with areas in which cheetah numbers are already extremely low.
The Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) publish figures collected by the Cheetah Conservation Fund that show 70 cheetahs were known to have been trafficked or confiscated in transit within a single year. The majority of these are young cubs and in most of the known cases they have died in transit.
Of the 70 known cases, 54 were from Somaliland, and that is a reflection of the strategic location of the area—it facilitates the relatively easy shipment of live cargo to the major market, the Middle East. Yemen, for example, lies less than 40 kilometers across the sea from both Djibouti and Eritrea, and it is increasingly featured in reports of trafficking big cats on to other countries of the region.
What Is Being Done About It?
It’s vital to gain broad international agreement on the significance of the cheetah trade because tackling this menace requires cooperation at, and across, national borders. Ethiopia has led the way (alongside collaborators Uganda and Kenya) in bringing the world’s attention to the issue via CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Consequently CITES has commissioned a study of the illegal trade in cheetahs that has just been published; this should result in an agreement about the scale of the trade and an understanding of its routes and methods of operation. There is hope that this will enable the regions of greatest concern with support and address some of the legal loop-holes.
Efforts at the national scale are also underway. The United Arab Emirates stepped up to the challenge last year with a ruling that prohibits the issuing of permits to import various wild animals, including cheetahs, for personal or commercial use. This is a fantastic step that we hope can be imitated by neighbouring countries.
One current example of efforts led by African governments comes from the Tanzania Carnivore Project of the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI)—they are collaborating with TRAFFIC to build the capacity of customs officials in detecting and combating the international trade in carnivores.
Several non-governmental organisations are working through different avenues to address this intolerable trade. The Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs is working closely with government authorities across the continent to increase capacity to monitor and fight the trade. Meanwhile the Cheetah Conservation Fund documents and campaigns to raise awareness on the cheetah trade. And in Ethiopia, the Born Free Foundation is working closely with the government to increase the understanding of and adherence to the wildlife trafficking laws while also providing an essential sanctuary to cheetahs confiscated from traders. Other organisations, like the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, keep traders on their toes by following up on the cases that come to light.
Not to be forgotten is the work of some notable and irrepressible individuals who are willing to go the extra mile to disrupt the trade and provide care for the confiscated wildlife. We are fighting the trade from many angles, but the task is formidable and requires broad collaboration and significant resources.
What You Can Do to Help:
1) Report any cases of cheetahs being traded or being kept in private captivity to either the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs (RWCP) or to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
2) Contact us to donate directly to the cause of fighting the illegal cheetah trade.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org,”like” us on Facebook under ‘Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and Wild Dog,’ and visit our website at www.cheetahandwilddog.org.