Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS supports the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in taking care of 29 orphaned cheetahs in Somaliland. The self-declared autonomous region is known as the main transit route for cheetahs trafficked out of East Africa. The orphaned animals in the care of CCF have been confiscated from the cheetah pet trade and are currently living in a safe place. FOUR PAWS contributes to the care and safekeeping of the animals with financial support, mainly to provide food and medical supplies for the animals.
The cheetah pet trade is thriving due to the high demand of wild animals as status symbol pets, particularly in the Gulf States. The cheetahs are believed to originate in Ethiopia, northern Kenya, Somalia and Somaliland, and are smuggled mostly out of the Somaliland coast. Due to the illegal nature of the trade, it is difficult to keep track of the numbers of animals traded.
“Keeping a cheetah or any other wild or big cat species as a pet is not only massive animal cruelty, but also dangerous for the owners and others who might come into direct contact with the animals. Moreover, it encourages poachers and wildlife smugglers to continue with their cruel and illegal businesses. FOUR PAWS is eager to contribute to the conservation efforts of CCF and provide whatever supplies are needed to take proper care of the suffering animals.”
Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department at FOUR PAWS.
Little chance of releasing cheetahs back into the wild
Since the government of Somaliland determined that confiscated cheetahs must remain in the country, CCF is working with its local and international partners to provide shelter and professional veterinary care with properly balanced diets for the animals. Running several species-appropriate sanctuaries for rescued big cats, bears and orangutans around the globe, FOUR PAWS also supports CCF with its expertise regarding wild animal management. The long-term goal is, if possible, to re-introduce the orphaned cheetahs into the wild. However, since the cubs come into CCF’s sanctuary at very young ages – usually under three months – most of the cheetahs are very habituated to people, creating a problem for putting them back into wild.
“The illegal trade is threatening the already vulnerable cheetah populations in parts of East Africa with extinction. The number of cubs being poached each year from small, already vulnerable, fragmented populations in the Horn of Africa is not sustainable. We need to act now, before it is too late.”
Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF.
Swift decline puts cheetahs at great risk for extinction
Across Africa, fewer than 7,500 cheetahs remain in the wild, down from a population of 100,000 a century ago. As 80% of wild cheetahs live outside protected areas, this puts them in closer contact with humans, which exacerbates conflict and makes them easier targets for poaching. CCF research indicates an estimated 300 cheetahs are poached and smuggled into the Arabian Peninsula each year to be sold in the illegal pet trade. Many more die before being shipped, and if they live through the smuggling, most do not live over two years of age due to improper care, diet and disease. For a species with low genetic diversity, coupled with low population numbers, losses to trafficking threaten the cheetah’s very existence. To combat the trade, education on the supply and the demand side of the issue needs to be addressed, along with the proper care and development of facilities for cheetah cubs that are confiscated.