You may have seen the photos on Instagram—a cheetah, perfectly posed, on top of a luxury car, or in front, so that the car’s logo fights for attention against the cat’s spots. Most wouldn’t give the photo a second thought, but it’s alarmed conservationists worldwide, including Patricia Tricorache of WCN partner Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
The true extent of the trade first came to her attention in 2005, when a US Marine called in to report that he had seen two cheetah cubs in Ethiopia, tied outside and obviously in poor condition. Acting in conjunction with the US embassy and local governmental officials, CCF managed to fly the cubs out of their situation, drawing worldwide press attention and inciting their own curiosity. It did not take them long to realize the scope was much, much larger than anyone had thought.
Since the 2005 incident, CCF has continued to work with both US and foreign governmental authorities, lobbying for further protection of cheetahs, and in 2014 CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) agreed to address the problems presented to cheetahs by the pet trade. CITES is now pushing pressure on the Gulf States to step up their efforts to curb the pet trade in cheetahs.
Young cheetah cubs are typically taken from eastern Africa, primarily from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and then taken to Yemen via boat. From there, they are sold to exotic pet owners within the Gulf States and Arabian Peninsula. With fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, the numbers are alarming.
A conservative estimate by CCF says that 300 cheetah cubs are being smuggled every year. This only counts the cubs that survive the journey—an estimated 70 percent of cheetahs die before they even arrive to be sold. The new CITES proposal seeks to curb these numbers both by enforcing and strengthening the current laws, and by informing the public about the trade and the consequences that could occur if a smuggler is caught. CITES will also seek to increase their social media presence, further spreading the word about the horrors of the exotic pet trade.
It is absolutely crucial that the international community bands together to help and “that we reduce demand—that people need to be aware of the damage this trade is doing to conservation,” said Tricorache. She also stressed that despite the glamorous online photos, cheetahs are dangerous animals—one so-called tame cheetah has already killed a person.
We must act now, before there are no cheetahs left in the wild to take. Please join WCN and CCF in spreading the word.
-Written by Elizabeth Rogers
Photo courtesy of Cheetah Conservation Fund