Twenty-nine cheetah cubs, destined to be sold as pets, have been rescued from an illegal smuggling trade in Somaliland.
The orphaned cubs were confiscated in Somaliland, an area known as the main transit route for cheetahs trafficked out of East Africa, according to a statement by Global animal welfare organisation Four Paws and the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
The organisations are calling for donations to assist with the care of the cubs.
The cheetah pet trade is thriving due to the high demand of wild animals as status symbol pets, particularly in the Gulf States, according to the statement.
Research by CCF indicates an estimated 300 cheetahs are poached and smuggled into the Arabian Peninsula each year, to be sold in the illegal pet trade. There are fewer than 7 500 cheetahs in the wild today, although there was a population of 100 000 a century ago.
“Keeping a cheetah or any other wild or big cat species as a pet is not only massive animal cruelty, but also dangerous for the owners and others who might come into direct contact with the animals. Moreover, it encourages poachers and wildlife smugglers to continue with their cruel and illegal businesses,” said Ioana Dungler, Director of the Wild Animals Department at Four Paws.
The trafficked cheetahs are believed to have originated in Ethiopia, northern Kenya, Somalia and Somaliland, and are smuggled mostly out of the Somaliland coast. Due to the illegal nature of the trade, it is difficult to keep track of the numbers of animals traded, said Dungler.
The 29 cubs rescued orphan cubs were currently being kept in a safe place. Since the government of Somaliland determined that confiscated cheetahs must remain in the country, CCF is working with its local and international partners to provide shelter and professional veterinary care with properly balanced diets for the animals.
The long-term goal would be to re-introduce the orphaned cheetahs into the wild, if possible. Contact with humans however, especially young cheetahs under 3-months-old, may pose a problem for their release, added Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF.