December 4th is International Cheetah Day! Please educate yourself about how the fastest land mammal is in a race for its very survival:
Wild animals are traded extensively worldwide – alive and dead, whole, as parts, and/or derivatives. Wildlife crime, defined as the poaching, taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s wild flora and fauna in contravention of national and international laws, is highly variable and can manifest in many forms. This exploitation of wildlife can be for food, clothing, cultural/traditional practices and customs, medicinal uses, decorative items and as live pets. Wildlife crime is a lucrative and growing global threat, estimated to net perpetrators billions and surpassed only in the illegal trafficking of narcotics, human, and firearms with respect to profits .
Cheetahs are victims of wildlife crime and are trafficked alive for the illegal pet trade. Cheetahs as pets is not a new phenomenon; for thousands of years the elite of the ancient world, including Egyptians, Persians, Indians and Russians, kept cheetahs in captivity as pets to demonstrate their status, wealth and rank. Today, the demand for cheetahs is still thriving, however the trade has become increasingly ominous due to severe population declines. There are only about 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild globally—about a 93% population loss since 1900. Even though cheetahs are protected under many national and international treaties, including CITES, the relatively low-risk, high reward nature of wildlife trafficking makes cheetah smuggling a lucrative business.
Cheetah cubs are captured from the wild, usually from East Africa and Namibia. They are also bred in captivity illegally in South Africa to sell as pets. Wild and captive-bred cheetahs are smuggled through the Horn of Africa, destined primarily for the Middle East, where demand is the highest. Demand has skyrocketed in the age of social media amid the booming wealth of Gulf States, particularly the United Arab Emirates. On Instagram you will find hundreds of photos of rich, young Arabs posing with pet cheetahs at home or in the pool, cheetahs laying on top of sports cars, on boats and being walked around courtyards with bedazzled chains. It is shocking and abhorrent to see this subculture phenomenon of rich, social media stars boasting about their menageries of illegal wildlife (other animals like lions, tigers, rare birds and monkeys are also frequently kept as pets), a trend that continues to be perpetuated by huge online followings.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), an NGO based in Namibia and dedicated to the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems, estimates that only one in six cheetah cubs survives the journey to buyer. CCF estimates that approximately 300 cheetah cubs are trafficked out of Somaliland every year to the Middle East. One cheetah cub is sold for approximately $10,000. The majority of captive cheetahs die within a year or two, but a $10,000 price tag is nothing for these ultra-wealthy Arab owners. Estimates put the illegal cheetah pet population in the Middle East at a least 1000 cheetahs. Cheetahs cannot easily breed in captivity; therefore, individuals are continuously taken from the wild to support this incessant demand. The illegal trade in cheetah cubs not only puts the remaining cheetahs at risk, but threats brought on by wildlife crime transcend national borders and can have serious consequences for all wildlife conservation, animal welfare, national economies, security and governance.
How Can You Help?
Spread the word. Cheetahs (and other wild animals) are NOT pets. Read and share CCF’s blogs about the cubs caught up in the illegal pet trade. By educating yourself and sharing your knowledge you can increase awareness on the illegal pet trade. Also, if possible, donate to CCF, as they are on the front line of cheetah conservation.
Be a responsible tourist. Do not ever buy products that are derived from endangered animals or patronize the stores that sell them. And NEVER pay to play – do not ever pose or take photos with exotic and/or endangered wildlife.