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There are barely 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, down from roughly 100,000 a century ago

  • Hunters and farmers have slashed their numbers, as has habitat loss

  • Wealthy Middle East buyers are also seeking the fleet felines as exotic pets

  • They're trafficked from Africa as kittens and many don't survive the trip

  • The Cheetah Conservation Fund is working with Somaliland to stop the pet trade and save the endangered big cat

  • By Afp and Dan Avery For Dailymail.com

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    The fastest animal on land may not be quick enough to outrace extinction, according to experts.

    There are barely 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, down from an estimated 100,000 worldwide a century ago.

    Much of that is due to their being hunted by poachers and farmers, and the removal of their habitat for agricultural and commercial purposes. 

    Experts say a growing trend in keeping the beautiful but wild cats as pets in rich Gulf states has only worsened the problem, with many cats not surviving the gruesome journey as they're smuggled out of the Horn of Africa to the Middle East. 

    Now, conservationists are working with government officials in Somaliland to fight back against the illegal wildlife trade.

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    The rapid decline in cheetahs is fueled by wealthy Gulf types who want them as status-symbol pets. in Somaliland, Cheetah cubs seized from the illegal wildlife trade are often in poor health and about half succumb to illness

    The rapid decline in cheetahs is fueled by wealthy Gulf types who want them as status-symbol pets. in Somaliland, Cheetah cubs seized from the illegal wildlife trade are often in poor health and about half succumb to illness

    Tiny, weeks-old cheetah cubs suckled from baby bottles and purred weakly at a the Cheetah Conservation Fund rescue center in Somaliland.

    CCF founder Laurie Marker is worried the smallest of this lot, a frail infant nicknamed 'Green' who weighs less than two pounds, won't pull through.

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    'It was very touch and go with Green,' Marker said, inspecting the mewling cub.

    Green and the others at the 'Cheetah Safe House' are the lucky ones. Every year, an estimated 300 cheetah cubs are trafficked through Somaliland to wealthy buyers in the Middle East seeking exotic pets.

    Every year an estimated 300 cheetah cubs are trafficked through Somaliland to wealthy buyers in the Middle East seeking exotic pets

    Every year an estimated 300 cheetah cubs are trafficked through Somaliland to wealthy buyers in the Middle East seeking exotic pets

    Snatched from their mothers, shipped out of Africa to war-torn Yemen and onward to the Gulf, cubs that survive the ordeal can fetch up to $15,000 on the black market.

    It is a busy trade, one less familiar than criminal markets for elephant ivory or rhino horn, but equally devastating for Africa's most endangered big cat. 

    Cheetahs which are capable of reaching speeds of up to 70 mph, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but in the wake of significant population declines, scientists are calling for them to be upgraded to 'endangered.'  

    In North Africa and Asia, cheetahs are already considered 'critically endangered.' 

    Snatched from their mothers, shipped out of Africa to war-torn Yemen and onward to the Gulf, a cheetah cub that survives the ordeal can fetch up to $15,000 on the black market

    Snatched from their mothers, shipped out of Africa to war-torn Yemen and onward to the Gulf, a cheetah cub that survives the ordeal can fetch up to $15,000 on the black market

    Between 2010 and 2019, more than 3,600 live cheetahs were illegally traded, many going from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf region

    Between 2010 and 2019, more than 3,600 live cheetahs were illegally traded, many going from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf region 

    Their numbers have been devastated by human encroachment and habitat destruction, but the steady plunder of cubs from the wild to satisfy the pet trade only compounds this decline.

    Between 2010 and 2019, more than 3,600 live cheetahs were illegally traded worldwide, according to research that documented hundreds of advertisements for cubs on social media platforms, including YouTube and Instagram.

    'If this keeps going... that kind of [market] causes the population to go extinct in a very short time,' said Marker.

    CCF shelters 67 rescued cheetahs across three safe houses in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa. Cheetahs have been sought after as exotic pets for centuries but today demand for cubs is placing enormous strain on the vulnerable species

    CCF shelters 67 rescued cheetahs across three safe houses in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa. Cheetahs have been sought after as exotic pets for centuries but today demand for cubs is placing enormous strain on the vulnerable species

    Pictured: Adult cheetahs at one of CCF's rescue shelters.  The organization has worked with the Somaliland government to crack down on the illegal cub trade

    Pictured: Adult cheetahs at one of CCF's rescue shelters.  The organization has worked with the Somaliland government to crack down on the illegal cub trade

    In addition to bringing cheetahs to the safe house, CCF works to mitigate the animal's decline by restoring habitat, conducting scientific research, and reducing conflicts with humans.

    They've even provided Anatolian and Kangol shepherd dogs to farmers in in Namibia and Somaliland to serve as guard dogs for livestock threatened by the fleet felines. 

    Cheetahs have been prized as pets and hunting companions since the Roman Empire. 

    Breeding them in captivity is notoriously difficult, making wild-caught cubs the only option.

    Part of the campaign to stop the modern-day trade has focused on changing attitudes in prosperous Gulf states, the main buyer market, where cheetahs are still coveted status symbols.

    Marker said wealthy owners liked to show off their cheetahs in selfies as much as their cars and cash.

    There are barely 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, down from approximately 100,000 a century ago. Pictured: A mother cheetah in the wild with her cubs

    There are barely 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, down from approximately 100,000 a century ago. Pictured: A mother cheetah in the wild with her cubs

    'There's kind of a one-upmanship on it, and there's bragging power. One of our messages is do not 'like' this kind of thing on social media,' Marker said.

    After years of pressure from animal welfare groups, the United Arab Emirates banned the owning, trading, and breeding of cheetahs and other big cats in 2017. 

    The law caries penalties of up to $136,000 in fines and up to six months in prison, according to CCF

    Combatting this criminal trade is particularly challenging because it revolves around Somaliland, a self-declared republic without international recognition.  

    Roughly the size of Syria, with 530 miles of coastline facing Yemen, Somaliland is a breakaway region between Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia. 

    It's one of the world's poorest regions, already stretched thin policing its porous borders.

    Interior Minister Mohamed Kahin Ahmed told AFP that a small coast guard unit was doing its best but, apart from patrolling for cheetahs, they have human traffickers and gun runners to contend with.

    The cubs that slip through the net suffer terrible mistreatment along the smuggling route, fed improperly and confined to tiny cages, sometimes with their legs bound with zip ties.

    Marker said one particular seizure in 2019 illustrated the cruelty. 

    'When they dumped them out, there were live ones dying on top of dead ones,' she said 'It was just horrible.'

    Fighting the criminal trade in cheetah cubs is particularly challenging because it revolves around Somaliland, a self-declared republic without international recognition, and one of the world's poorest regions

    Fighting the criminal trade in cheetah cubs is particularly challenging because it revolves around Somaliland, a self-declared republic without international recognition, and one of the world's poorest regions

    In recent years, confiscations have soared as the government has cracked down on the trade.

    From just a handful of cubs in 2018, today CCF shelters 67 rescued cheetahs across three safe houses in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa.

    Laws criminalizing the sale of cheetahs have also started being enforced: In October 2020, a smuggling ring was shattered and a high-profile trafficker prosecuted in a landmark trial.

    Through a program funded by the British government, Somaliland is expanding intelligence sharing with neighboring countries and Yemen to fight the criminals robbing Africa of the iconic species.

    But Somaliland officials are also working with impoverished rural communities, whose conflict with cheetahs is another driver in the trade.

    Somaliland is expanding intelligence sharing with neighboring countries and Yemen to better tackle the illegal trade of cheetah cubs

    Somaliland is expanding intelligence sharing with neighboring countries and Yemen to better tackle the illegal trade of cheetah cubs

    Of the 13 cubs confiscated between September and November, at least four were taken by farmers hoping to sell them and recoup losses after claiming their livestock were killed by cheetahs.

    'The next generation may never see a cheetah if this illicit trade continues,' Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland's former foreign minister, told an anti-poaching conference in September.

    Local veterinarian Ahmed Yusuuf Ibrahim is determined this grim prophecy does not pass.

    The 27-year-old has been learning how to nurse sickly cubs back to health and has developed a close fondness for the cheetahs under his care.

    They cannot fend for themselves, and eventually will be relocated to a larger natural enclosure outside Hargeisa.

    But for now, Ibrahim is their doting custodian, right down to making sure cheetahs young and old get their fair share of camel meat.

    'I care for them. I feed them, I clean them,' he said. 'They are my babies.'

    Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10194125/Cheetahs-fast-running-extinction-cub-trade-thrives.html

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