Environmentalists are reporting a significant drop in the trafficking of baby cheetahs from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East – a trend that offers hope for their survival.
Five years after the introduction of tough laws banning the illegal sale of wild animals and unregulated private zoos in the UAE, their impact is finally being felt in Africa.
According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Somaliland, East Africa, tighter border controls and prosecution of those who illegally bring wildlife into the region have led to a drop in demand for baby cheetahs.
“Increased application by Somaliland in the Gulf [of Aden] and along known smuggling routes, as well as increased community awareness of poaching as a crime has led to a significant drop in cub trafficking, ”said Susan Yannetti, CCF Ambassador to the Middle East.
“We still have 67 cheetahs in Hargeisa; people still take them as a way to thwart predation … others think selling cubs is a good idea, so our job is far from over.
“But we think the heyday of the Cub trade is over.
“People around the world are realizing that taking cheetahs from the wild for pets will lead to their extinction and that most people don’t want to lose the species. “
Due to tighter controls at airports and more training for authorities on wildlife trafficking methods, cheetahs are rarely trafficked at airports, conservationists have said.
Animals trafficked and then driven across land borders are a more likely route to the region.
“The cubs are being smuggled along with drugs, antiques, other wildlife and humans to the Middle East,” Ms. Yannetti said.
“Consumer demand for cheetahs as pets among the general public has largely been quashed and the rest driven underground.”
The conservation fund said about five percent of all captive cheetahs are recorded in the UAE.
In September and October, a team from the Somaliland Ministry of Environment and Rural Development rescued 11 wild-caught cheetahs in four separate incidents.
The cubs were rounded up in a sweep of Sool and Saraar districts based on intelligence generated at a wildlife conference in July.
The cubs are estimated to be between five and six weeks old at the time of confiscation and are recovering in a wildlife sanctuary in Hargeisa.
A man has been arrested in connection with the seizure.
“The ministry is happy to work in the eastern regions to raise awareness of the illegal nature of wildlife poaching,” said Abdinassir Hussein, director of wildlife for the ministry.
“We want to discourage others from taking baby cheetahs and other wildlife from our landscapes. It’s against the law for whatever reason.
Training and education workshops were organized under the Legal Intelligence for Illicit Trade in Cheetah Project to increase Somaliland’s capacity to stop illegal trade in cheetahs and other wildlife.
The action is part of a larger effort to protect the species by reducing supply, as well as demand.
CCF Founder and Executive Director Dr Laurie Marker said habitat loss, climate change and human-wildlife conflict remain the greatest challenges to saving the cheetah from extinction. Only 7,500 are thought to exist in the wild.
“One of the solutions is to reduce the demand for cheetah,” she said.
“There is now more awareness in the UAE thanks to the wildlife laws that were implemented five years ago.
“It takes time for them to take effect.
“But we do know that a lot of animals that were in private hands have either been confiscated or turned over to facilities where they have permits, like Dubai Safari or private facilities.
“A lot of work has been done to educate people and it is making a difference. “
In a recent Interpol report, a global crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade resulted in the recovery of 29 big cats from border crossings around the world.
The report did not specify which species of cats were intercepted, or from where.
During Operation Thunder, Interpol identified several trends, including an increased use of online platforms to organize cross-border trafficking, increased forgery of travel documents and links to broader criminal networks.
In Namibia, 14 cases of trafficking were linked to the illegal trade in pharmaceuticals, food and auto parts.
The Somaliland government donated 800 hectares of land to the conservation fund center in Hargeisa to expand and accommodate more cheetahs in a natural habitat.
It should be completed by the end of next year.
The center also has three shelters where cheetahs are taken once intercepted before entering rehabilitation and recovery programs.
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Update: December 29, 2021, 12:25 p.m.