On 27 June we received a report of a grown cheetah being kept at a private “zoo” in a location within the Horn of Africa. The place is, sadly, not unfamiliar to us; the owner keeps lions and other wild animals under terrible conditions.
Upon learning about the cheetah, our local network immediately reported the issue to the appropriate Ministry, who promised to look into the matter. In the meantime, they went to see the cheetah. Fortunately, the cat was in what we would consider 5-star accommodations in that particular location (below photo right), and certainly an improvement from the crate in which the animal had been transported (below photo left). The zoo owner indicated that the cat did not belong to him and that it was being offered to him for 200USD.
In some countries, things don’t work as most people would expect. In this case, the Minister visited the zoo owner, wanted to get paid for the cheetah. This was not what we were hoping for, as we strongly discourage paying money to rescue animals in the wildlife trade. As long as the traffickers know that they will get money, they will continue to remove animals from the wild. In the Horn of Africa, an average 300 cheetah cubs are smuggled out across the Gulf of Aden into the Arabian Peninsula, every year. Many more end up dying before the trip for lack of good care, or simply because they were too young to withstand the ordeal.
Yesterday the Minister invited our field associate to go back to the zoo with a Ministry representative. A couple of trips were made to report back to the Minister, who ultimately and against our insistence, issued a check to pay for the cheetah. The two men returned to the zoo to remove the cheetah and transported it to our associate’s home to be looked after. The cat, a female, seems to be healthy and is very beautiful, although, not surprisingly, leery of humans. She did not enjoy the trip, losing her breakfast in the vehicle. She couldn’t have known that she was being taken to a better place, with people who care.
Our associate will have to build an adequate enclosure on his yard for this cat, as she will have to stay with him until her transfer to a sanctuary can be negotiated. As there is none nearby, it might take a while to obtain approvals for cross-border transportation.
Since our first rescue of two cubs in 2005, we have records of well over 1,000 cheetahs that have been removed from the wild to be sold mostly as pets, or for their pelts and bones (used for ornamental or medicinal purposes). These are only the cases we have been able to compile. The illegal trade in cheetahs is alarming considering that most of those cheetahs come from areas with already small populations. We are doing everything in our power to stop it.