The LICIT project: Engaging communities to stop trafficking of cheetahs

This report was taken from the Darwin Initiative’s illegal wildlife trade newsletter – you can read the full article here.

Despite being apex predators and playing a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, cheetahs are endangered, with less than 7,500 remaining in the wild. One of the most significant threats faced by cheetahs is trafficking for the illegal pet trade. It is estimated that around 300 are smuggled into the countries of the Arabian Peninsula each year to be sold as pets. Evidence shows that these animals mainly originate in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia/ Somaliland), where they are taken from the wild as young cubs. Most of these cubs do not survive the journey due to neglect and abuse, but those that do can command up to USD 15,000 when illegally sold on the internet or in exotic animal markets. The main objective of the Legal Intelligence for Cheetah Illicit Trade (LICIT) project is to build capacity at the national and community levels in these countries to combat this illegal trade.

The affected cheetah population in the Horn of Africa shares its habitat with human communities. Many of these communities are pastoralists and are significantly impacted by climate change, conflict, and poverty. These factors can be drivers of trafficking, as well as human- wildlife conflict. It has been found that farmers or herders who have lost livestock are more willing to take and sell cheetah cubs. Evidence indicates that traffickers are generally willing to pay about USD 200-300 per cub – which is a substantial amount for these communities given the per capita income is USD 790 in Ethiopia and USD 347 in Somaliland.

Involving the communities in countries where cheetah trafficking originates has been critical in our efforts to stop the illegal trade through improving the understanding that cheetahs belong in the wild. Wildlife is an important element of a community landscape, along with water, forests, pasture land, and other natural resources. Like other resources, when it is sustainably managed, wildlife contributes to ecosystem functioning and economic well- being. The challenge for the LICIT partners – the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Legal Atlas – is demonstrating that the long-term value of cheetahs in the wild is greater than any short-term benefits from selling cheetah cubs to traffickers. It has been found that farmers or herders who have lost livestock are more willing to take and sell cheetah cubs.

One of the principles that guides the work of CCF and its partners is that the protection of cheetahs and other wildlife also benefits people. This is achieved not only through outreach and education, but also through actions that provide concrete benefits for wildlife conservation such as improved livelihoods that are not dependent on illegal activities. In Namibia, CCF has pioneered a number of such programmes within the context of its cheetah conservation efforts.

One of the key outcomes of the LICIT project is building a network of contacts and stakeholders within target communities in Ethiopia and Somaliland, that will serve as a foundation for pursuing similar programmes which will encourage these communities to work with each other to address the common threat posed by cheetah trafficking. The initial question faced by the project is how to build these networks in insular communities where physical and social access for outsiders can be difficult, as is the case in much of the Ogaden region. To overcome this challenge, our project has partnered with government agencies, civil society organisations, and universities that have their own community connections and can help open doors for LICIT activities.

This strategy recently took a significant step forward when Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF Founder and Executive Director, and Dr. Shira Yashphe, CCF’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Lead, travelled to Jijiga, the capital of the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia. There they met with members of the Somali Regional State Wildlife Trafficking Task Force, an entity created by the Ethiopian government to promote an integrated approach to combating wildlife trafficking. Task Force members represent a number of regional government offices that are involved with local communities on economic, social, and environmental matters. The meeting was arranged with the assistance of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Agency (EWCA), and was the first time the Task Force had ever convened. Drs. Marker and Yashphe, along with representatives from IFAW and EWCA, presented the LICIT project and its place in the larger context of anti-cheetah trafficking initiatives in the region, emphasising the importance of community involvement. One of the principles that guides the work of CCF and its partners is that the protection of cheetahs and other wildlife also benefits people.

One of the key outcomes of the LICIT project is building a network of contacts and stakeholders within target communities in Ethiopia and Somaliland, that will serve as a foundation for pursuing similar programmes which will encourage these communities to work with each other to address the common threat posed by cheetah trafficking.

Find out more about CCF’s conservation work.

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