DUBAI 30 August 2019: CNN has exposed the illegal wildlife trade which has seen endangered cheetah’s trafficked across the Horn of Africa and into the Middle East.
The rare animals are smuggled through the porous Ethiopian border into Somaliland and across the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Peninsula, says Jomana Karadsheh.
If the mothers aren’t killed, the cubs are snatched from them, smuggled in plastic bags, cramped crates and cardboard boxes. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, 300 animals are trafficked every year and for every one animal that makes it into captivity, another three die en route.
The surviving animals become an exotic accessory, as rich Gulf Arabs compete for social media clicks. At least a thousand cheetahs are estimated to be in private hands in Gulf States; according to experts though most of the animals die within a year or two in captivity.
Private Ownership Banned
Although private ownership and trading of wildlife is banned in most Gulf States, enforcement is lax. Illegal online sales are starting to be policed but if you really want a cheetah, they’re not hard to find.
Karadsheh tracks down one online listing, purporting to sell cheetahs, and contacts the seller. He tells her “Whatever cheetah you want, you want male, you want female, it’s not an issue… We import through a website with a guy and we have another Saudi trader… I got more than 80 from them.”
There are only 7500 cheetahs left worldwide, half the number from just a decade ago. Karadsheh visits a rescue centre working to save the species. According to the market there are only 300 adults in unprotected areas in the Horn of Africa. As one of the rescue centre workers comments “do the math, the math shows that it’s only going to be a matter of a couple years that we’re not going to have any cheetahs in this region left.”
Whilst private ownership of cheetahs is illegal in Somaliland, CNN found examples of it being tolerated in plain sight and requests for reasoning went unanswered by authorities.