Cheetah cubs rescued from wildlife traffickers in Somaliland

Cheetah cub rescue

UPDATE: In spite of the intensive care the nine recently confiscated cheetah cubs received, several succumbed from the cruel circumstances they endured from smugglers. Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate so veterinary experts were consulted on how to provide the best care for the cubs. The rescue team experienced an additional set back when the older, sub-adult male, Wajale, escaped the temporary enclosure and entered an urban setting. Somaliland does not currently have a dart gun and as the animal was deemed a public safety concern, the police had no choice but to shoot him. Four cheetah cubs remain in care and are responding well to treatment. Their intestinal issues have cleared, appetites have returned and they even show an interest in playing together. The blog below originally appeared on April 26, 2017.

Nine cheetah cubs and one sub-adult were confiscated from illegal wildlife traders by the Somaliland Ministry of Environment and Rural Development (MoERD) with assistance from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).

The three youngest cubs were found in extremely poor health, and every effort is being made to save them.

Later the same day, CCF learned three older cheetahs had reportedly escaped from a trafficker in the Wajale area bordering Ethiopia and entered the town. Two of the animals were captured by the police while the third is still loose. With support from the Minister of Environment and Rural Development, who approved a confiscation, CCF recovered one of the cheetahs and is in negotiations to recover the second. A search for the third one is underway.

CCF has partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to ensure the cubs are given urgent medical care, food and appropriate emergency housing.

CCF needed critical supplies if the cubs were to survive, and IFAW was pleased to offer immediate assistance. Wild cheetah populations are in serious trouble, largely due to habitat loss and the demand for cubs as exotic pets. The cruelty of live animal trade is shocking, and we are doing all we can to save these cubs.

Cheetahs are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species. Population estimates show there are only slightly more than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild. Cheetahs require open plains to hunt, and habitat loss is likely the biggest reason for the big decline in their population.

Cheetahs are trafficked largely due to the demand to own them as pets. It is estimated around 300 cheetah cubs are smuggled every year from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. Smuggled cubs suffer a 70 percent mortality rate, and those that survive cannot be returned to the wild even if rescued. Some people believe owning a cheetah will help give them a high status image. Others operate by a misguided logic that private ownership of cheetahs may prevent the species’ extinction. No matter how altruistic the motivation may be, purchasing cubs from traffickers still fuels the cycle of illegal trade.

At IFAW, our mission is to rescue individual animals, protect the species and preserve their habitat. A collaborative approach is very much needed to accomplish this goal. Since 2014, CCF and IFAW have worked together on the issue of illegal cheetah trade in the context of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

One of the oldest newly confiscated cheetahs, a female now named Wajale, is estimated to be one and a half years old and has been moved to a large, temporary enclosure. Although nervous at first, Wajale has calmed down and appears more relaxed in her new enclosure.

IFAW and CCF are engaged in discussions with the Ministry on how to provide long-term care for the confiscated cheetahs, which cannot be transferred to sanctuaries in nearby countries as current laws in the region do not allow for confiscated animals to be transported across borders.

More updates to come.

--GA

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