Campaigners are calling for urgent cross- border action to halt the illegal trafficking of cheetah cubs from the Horn of Africa into wealthy Gulf states, where the animals are kept as pets and traded and paraded on social media sites.
In the past two months, 11 cheetah cubs have been rescued in three raids by the authorities in Somaliland, which has become a main trafficking route for cheetahs out of East Africa into the Middle East.
Technology firms have made public commitments to crack down on their sites being used by illegal wildlife traders, but the online platforms remain awash with adverts for endangered animals, including cheetahs.
“The rising trade in cheetahs and other animals for luxury pets in the Middle East is helping to drive critical populations of wildlife to extinction in Somaliland and North and East Africa,” said Shukri Ismail, Somaliland’s environment minister.
The rescued cheetahs are being cared for by Somaliland vets and the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), a Namibian research and lobby institution, which has 14 cubs in a temporary “safe house” in the capital, Hargeisa.
Since the CCF began working with the Somaliland government in 2011, it has intercepted more than 50 attempts to traffic cheetahs.
But, said the CCF’s assistant director of Illegal Wildlife Trade, Patricia Tricorache: “We believe as many as 300 cheetahs are smuggled from Africa into the Middle East every year.”
She said the animals are usually smuggled across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen and then taken to Saudi Arabia and beyond.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), many owners of big cats and primates post pictures of themselves and their animals on social media sites, sometimes posing with celebrities. In August this year, for example, a newly opened café in an upmarket suburb of Dubai shared videos on its Instagram feed of a cheetah eating meat off its floor after a customer brought the animal inside.