NEWS AND COMMENT-SOMALILAND: Calum Cairns, a former veterinarian working in rural North Yorkshire, UK, is today a cheetah rescuer operating out of a facility on the edge of Hargeisa, in the capital of Somaliland in East Africa. The cheetahs that he rescues are often in a bad way being malnourished and dehydrated. The Cheetah Conservation Fund tells us that about 300 cheetahs are trafficked to Somaliland annually. It is the world hub for trafficked cheetahs and their destination is the Middle East where they can fetch up to £12,000 as cubs to be flaunted on Instagram. Meta, the owner of Instagram doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.
All the cheetahs that Mr Cairns cares for have been seized from traffickers who had planned to ship them via Yemen to wealthy Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia where there is a burgeoning trade in exotic pets. Cheetahs are a prestige symbol in the Middle East. They are exotic and they have a taste for the exotic. You will see pictures of them in the front seat of luxury cars with a leash around their neck. Frankly, it is disgusting and in terms of conservation it is devastating because this illicit trade is a key factor in driving the species’ decline in combination with habitat destruction and general conflict with humans such as farmers who sometimes shoot females to protect their farm and then sell the cubs to traders to end up in the Middle East. Can you imagine that?
I know these guys have to make a living but there must be a better way of doing it than this kind of animal cruelty.
A century ago, there used to be 100,000 cheetahs in Africa and now The Sunday Times tells me that there are 7, 000 left in the wild (actually 6,674 adults and adolescents according to AWF). It is said that they are “teetering on the edge of extinction” in the wild. And they don’t breed well or at all in captivity which adds to their vulnerability.
Many cheetahs die when trafficked to the Gulf states. One example is six out of fifteen cheetah cubs which have recently arrived in compounds belonging to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. They were confiscated from smugglers. The police had found them in a raid near the border with Ethiopia.
The cheetah is predisposed to semi-domestication and taming. They’ve been tamed for hundreds of years to hunt with their human masters. They are less aggressive than lions or leopards and of course they look beautiful and they are the fastest land animal.
Although it is illegal to buy and sell cheetahs in Somaliland the traders never have a problem because the law is unenforced. A complicating factor is that Somaliland is a de facto state, independent from Somalia, but it is not recognised and therefore is not subject to international treaties on trade of wild animals and wild animal body parts. This must be a reference to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
The Minister of Environment and Rural Development of Somaliland, Shukri Bandare, wearily stated that “We have officers checking at the borders, but you can’t put a guard under every tree.”
The exotic pet trade is opaque with many middlemen and long chains of dealers who communicate through encrypted messages on their smart phones. They are probably also involved in smuggling humans, ivory and arms.
The trade is fuelled by the self-indulgent rich of the Middle East who desire to possess cheetahs as pets while disregarding completely the effect that they are having on the conservation of the species. When it becomes extinct in the wild, they will stop having cheetahs as pets but it seems that that won’t happen until the end game arises. The dire state of cheetah conservation has been known for a very long time but the decline in numbers continues unabated.
Below are some more articles on the cheetah.