Demand for exotic pets and human-wildlife conflict drive illegal trade in cheetah cubs in Somaliland and regional cooperation

Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) research indicates 300 cheetah cubs were poached from the landscape in the Horn of Africa each year between 2010 and 2020.

The poaching and trafficking of cheetahs between the Horn of Africa and Middle East-North Africa regions has seen the region left with fewer than 7,500 cheetahs in the wild, threatening the species in the Horn of Africa with local extinction within 10-years


As a result of the illegal trade, CCF has joined with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Legal Atlas to disrupt the poaching and trafficking of cheetahs, and conduct a five days training course in Hargeisa for representatives of the Somaliland government involved in law enforcement and the prosecution of wildlife crimes.

With the ultimate aim of reducing poaching and illegal trade in cheetah cubs, the participants will increase their knowledge of Somaliland environmental and wildlife conservation laws, how to properly handle confiscated cubs, and how to carry out efficient criminal investigations involving wildlife.

Somaliland’s Minister of Environment, Rural Development Shukri Ismail lauded the collaboration with the conservationists to improve the laws and establish a national unit to conduct counter-trafficking activities in a decade-long fight against illegal wildlife trade in Somaliland.

“Supporting inter-regional collaboration in law enforcement is crucial to successfully counter wildlife trafficking,” said Matt Morley, Director of Wildlife Crime for IFAW. “We have been hosting Detecting Illegal Species Through Prevention Trainings (DISRUPT) across Africa and the Middle East for years, and with Legal Intelligence/Cheetah Illicit Trade (LICIT), we are sharing the programming we have developed through our work in these other jurisdictions,” said Ismail.

How Trafficked Cheetah Cubs Move From Wild Into Your Instagram Feed
A seven-month-old cheetah in the back of an SUV hisses at a rescuer’s outstretched hand. Authorities intercepted the cub, later named Astur, before he could be sold to a smuggler. But every year scores—perhaps hundreds—of mostly very young cheetahs are trafficked out of Somaliland to Persian Gulf states to be sold as pets.

As a source and transit country with almost 800 kilometers of coastline facing Yemen, Somaliland has long been at the center of the illegal cheetah cub trade

Legal Atlas Director James Wingard adds, “Consistent application of wildlife laws is one of LICIT’s goals. We have therefore compiled legal frameworks for each of the four jurisdictions. Doing so makes it easier to spot gaps in legislation. Then we can assist the respective governments in strengthening their laws by revising them or by creating new ones.”

The illegal trade in cheetahs is mainly driven by demand for exotic pets in the Middle East, but also by extreme poverty in source countries.

Human-wildlife conflict makes coexistence with these predators difficult, and the impact of climate change on agriculture and livelihoods further exacerbates the situation.

How Trafficked Cheetah Cubs Move From Wild Into Your Instagram Feed
With an airline eye mask and a tissue in his ears to help him stay sedated, Astur undergoes an intake exam at one of the nonprofit Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) rescue centers in Hargeysa. Cubs smuggled or intercepted from criminal rings often get sick, typically because they’re subjected to long, grueling journeys and deprived of proper nutrition. Many don’t survive.

“Even after we stop the illegal trade, our work in Somaliland and the Horn of Africa is just beginning,” said Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF.

“We are learning from confiscation events where wild cheetah populations may exist and we are meeting the people who live with them. In these areas, the confluence of drought, famine, extreme poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of awareness of the law, and conflict with farmers creates a complex web of issues that must be addressed to save the species. We are grateful for the LICIT project, which is enabling us to take giant strides forward in this fight.”

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