The illegal trade in cheetahs

For a long time now there has been a fascination with the exotic cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, which has encouraged the illegal trade of cheetahs as they are taken from their mothers, caged, smuggled and sold as pets in countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, where the rich feel the need for a status symbol pet.

A tweet about the illegal trade in the exotic cheetah resulting in anti-conservation abuse of this precious feline.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

RELATED: 9 beautiful cheetah cubs rescued from being sold in illegal pet trade

The illegal trade in cheetahs

The illegal trade in cheetahs is a serious concern, driven by various factors. Here are some key points:

  1. Demand for Exotic Pets:
    • The primary driver of the illegal trade in cheetahs is the demand for exotic pets, particularly in the Middle East.
    • Cheetah cubs are often captured and sold to individuals who want to keep them as status symbols or companions.
    • Unfortunately, this demand puts immense pressure on wild cheetah populations.
  2. Extreme Poverty and Human-Wildlife Conflict:
    • Extreme poverty in source countries contributes to the illegal trade. Rural farmers, whose livestock may fall prey to cheetahs, sometimes take revenge by poaching cheetah cubs and selling them to traffickers.
    • Additionally, human-wildlife conflict makes coexistence with these predators challenging, leading to retaliatory actions against cheetahs.
  3. Online Trade Trends:
    • Recent research by TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network) highlights a growing online trend in illegal cheetah trade.
    • Approximately 70% of the burgeoning online trade in cheetahs occurs on social media platforms.
    • Traders often create multiple user profiles, use stronger privacy settings, and avoid explicit sales language to evade detection.
  4. Conservation Status:
    • Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are already at risk due to factors like climate change, habitat loss, and low genetic diversity.
    • There are only an estimated 6,500 adult cheetahs left in the wild, and the five cheetah subspecies are now found in only 9% of their historical range.
    • The species is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List and is listed under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade in cheetahs.

In summary, addressing the illegal trade in cheetahs requires concerted efforts to combat demand, improve livelihoods in source countries, and enhance conservation measures. Protecting these iconic big cats is crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.

Sources for the above include:,, and

RELATED: Trafficked cheetah cubs flaunted on Instagram

Which countries are mainly involved in the illegal trade in cheetahs?

The illegal trade in cheetahs involves several countries, but the main ones can be categorized into two groups:

Source and transit countries:

  • Horn of Africa: This region, particularly Somalia, Ethiopia, and Somaliland, is a major source of cheetah cubs for the illegal trade. These cubs are often poached from the wild and then smuggled through complex networks.
  • Other African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries in Africa also contribute to the illegal trade, though to a lesser extent than the Horn of Africa.

Destination countries:

  • Arabian Peninsula: Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait are the primary destinations for illegally traded cheetahs. There is a high demand for exotic pets in this region, and cheetahs are unfortunately seen as status symbols.
  • Other countries: While less common, cheetahs can also be smuggled to other parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.

It’s important to note that the illegal trade in cheetahs is a complex issue with constantly evolving routes and players. Organizations like the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are working to combat this trade through various initiatives.

Pet cheetah in a car in Dubai on a lead with the owner on his phone.
Pet cheetah in a car in Dubai on a lead with the owner on his phone. Image believed to be in the public domain.

Value of illegal trade in wildlife

The illegal wildlife trade is a massive global issue, with estimates of its annual value ranging from $7 billion to $23 billion.

Here are some sources and their estimates:

  • Interpol: Up to $20 billion per year.
  • World Economic Forum: Up to $20 billion per year.
  • WWF-UK: Over £15 billion annually.
  • GEF: Between $7 and $23 billion per year.

Despite the range, it’s clear that the illegal wildlife trade is a significant source of illegal income, making it one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities.

What is CITES?

CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It’s an international agreement signed by 184 countries to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants doesn’t threaten their survival in the wild.

Here are some key points about CITES:

  • Goal: To regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.
  • Mechanism:
    • Species are listed in three Appendices with different levels of protection:
      • Appendix I: Includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. Trade in these species is generally prohibited.
      • Appendix II: Includes species that are not necessarily endangered but could become so without strict regulation. Trade is allowed but requires permits.
      • Appendix III: Includes species that a country has requested additional protection for within its borders. Trade requires the exporting country to issue a permit.
    • Each CITES member country has designated authorities to issue permits and monitor trade in these listed species.
  • Importance: CITES is one of the cornerstones of international conservation efforts, helping to protect thousands of species from overexploitation and illegal trade.

Overall, CITES plays a crucial role in preventing the extinction of vulnerable species and promoting the sustainable use of wildlife resources. Comment: it is not working as many countries who are parties to the treaty do not enforce it.

Personal comment

I hate the illegal trade in wildlife. It is a chronic abuse of wildlife by the greedy human. Humans have been exploiting nature for as long as they have been on the planet. And as there are many more humans today than hundreds of thousands of years ago their impact on nature generally and wild animals in particular is enormously damaging. We have global warming AND the illegal trade in wildlife which makes the future for these animals very precarious. I feel very upset and pessimistic about the general failure of wildlife conservation. There are some great people in conservation but they battle big business and this trade as you can see is big business.

Cheetah conservation

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on Earth, but sadly, they are also a vulnerable species. Their population has declined dramatically in recent years, with estimates suggesting only around 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

Here are some key points about cheetah conservation efforts:

Threats to Cheetahs:

  • Habitat Loss: The biggest threat to cheetahs is habitat loss due to human activities like agriculture, urbanization, and infrastructure development. This fragmentation of their natural habitat makes it harder for them to find food and prey, and increases conflict with humans.
  • Poaching and Illegal Trade: Cheetahs are poached for their fur, body parts used in traditional medicine, and even for the illegal pet trade. This illegal activity poses a significant threat to cheetah populations, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
  • Human-Wildlife Conflict: Cheetahs sometimes prey on livestock, leading to conflict with farmers. This can result in retaliatory killings of cheetahs.

Conservation Efforts:

Several organizations and initiatives are working to conserve cheetahs and protect their remaining populations. Here are some key players:

  • Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF): Based in Namibia, the CCF is a leading organization dedicated to cheetah research and conservation. They work on various projects, including anti-poaching efforts, habitat restoration, and community outreach programs.
  • Africa Range-Wide Cheetah Conservation Initiative (CCI): This collaborative effort works across Africa to improve the conservation status of cheetahs. They focus on creating corridors for safe movement, engaging communities in conservation efforts, and building capacity within local wildlife authorities.
  • International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW): IFAW works globally to protect animals, including cheetahs. They support anti-poaching initiatives, raise awareness about the illegal wildlife trade, and advocate for stronger conservation policies.

How You Can Help:

There are several ways you can support cheetah conservation:

  • Donate to organizations: Donate to reputable organizations like the CCF, CCI, or IFAW to directly support their conservation efforts.
  • Spread awareness: Share information about the threats cheetahs face and the importance of their conservation.
  • Support sustainable practices: Choose products that are wildlife-friendly and avoid those that could contribute to habitat loss or the illegal wildlife trade.
  • Volunteer your time: If you have the opportunity, consider volunteering with organizations working on cheetah conservation.

By working together, we can help ensure that cheetahs continue to roam free in the wild for generations to come.

Stopping the trade in cheetahs?

Tackling the illegal trade in cheetahs requires a multi-pronged approach involving various stakeholders:

1. Law Enforcement:

  • Border Control: Stricter border controls and improved detection methods are crucial to intercepting smuggled cheetahs. This includes training customs officials, using sniffer dogs, and implementing advanced technology like X-ray scanners.
  • Anti-poaching Efforts: Increased patrols and surveillance in source regions, coupled with intelligence gathering and collaboration between countries, can help deter poaching and disrupt trafficking networks.
  • Legal Frameworks: Strengthening national and international laws against wildlife trafficking, with harsher penalties for offenders, sends a strong message and deters potential criminals.

2. Community Engagement:

  • Education and Awareness: Raising awareness among local communities about the threats posed by the illegal wildlife trade and the importance of cheetah conservation can help build support and encourage reporting of suspicious activities.
  • Alternative Livelihoods: Providing communities with alternative income sources can reduce their dependence on poaching or involvement in the illegal trade. This could involve eco-tourism initiatives, sustainable agriculture practices, or other local development projects.

3. International Cooperation:

  • CITES: As mentioned earlier, CITES plays a vital role in regulating international trade in wildlife. Strengthening the implementation of CITES regulations and ensuring compliance by member countries is crucial.
  • Collaboration between Organizations: Collaboration between conservation organizations, wildlife authorities, and law enforcement agencies across different countries is essential for sharing information, coordinating efforts, and tackling the trade at all levels.

4. Demand Reduction:

  • Raising Awareness: Educating consumers, particularly in destination countries, about the cruelty and environmental impact of the illegal wildlife trade can help reduce demand for exotic pets like cheetahs.
  • Social Media Campaigns: Utilizing social media platforms to spread awareness and mobilize public support for cheetah conservation can be a powerful tool.

Examples of Successful Initiatives:

  • The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF): Their Border Point Project in Ethiopia focuses on intercepting cheetah cubs at key border crossings and raising awareness among local communities.
  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW): They work with partners to support anti-poaching efforts, raise awareness about the illegal wildlife trade, and advocate for stronger conservation policies.
  • Born Free Foundation: Their rescue and rehabilitation centers provide safe havens for confiscated cheetahs, and their educational programs raise awareness about the dangers of the illegal wildlife trade.

By combining these strategies and working together, we can make significant progress in combating the illegal trade in cheetahs and ensuring the survival of this iconic species.

Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo