Cheetahs are being taken from the wild and smuggled across international borders to be sold as pets, the world’s largest convention on wildlife trade heard on Friday.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have brought the issue to international attention at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES in Bangkok, Thailand.
The three countries were spurred into action due to growing concern for eastern Africa cheetah populations that are the source for many of the smugglers. The conservation status of cheetahs is classed as Vulnerable under the Red List of Threatened Species and scientists fear that the trade in live animals could be impacting the survival of the cheetah populations in the Horn of Africa.
Dr. Nick Mitchell of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and says: “Cheetahs are already extinct in many countries and in eastern Africa resident populations are known to exist in just 6% of their estimated historical range.”
Aside from the illegal wildlife trade, cheetahs face multiple threats ranging from the loss of their habitat to persecution by farmers who fear their livestock are in danger.
Dr. Mitchell added: “Cheetahs only ever occur at very low density numbers in the wild so the removal of individual animals to supply a demand for exotic pets could have significant consequences for the survival of those populations.”
ZSL’s Senior Research Fellow Dr. Sarah Durant says: “Cheetahs are declining across much of their range and are now thought to number less than 10,000 individuals. Any illegal trade in cheetahs will exacerbate these declines.” It is reported that most of the smuggled cheetahs are small cubs as they are easier to handle and to domesticate but more than half of them are believed to die in transit.
Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust stated that “currently the trade is known to affect many countries across Africa but we don’t have a good understanding of the scale, the trade routes or the mode of operation”. It is this situation that has prompted Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to propose the commissioning of the first serious study of the trade dedicated to answering these questions.