People have been asking me for the past several months how the pandemic has been affecting our work. It has, in so many ways. But it has not stopped would-be traffickers taking cubs from the Horn of Africa in attempt to sell them into the illegal pet trade. It has not stopped our progress in intervening. As the result of four successive missions to one border area we suspect serves as a crossover point in the span of just three weeks, the joint team from the Somaliland Ministry of Environment and Rural Development (MoERD) and Somaliland Police forces, supported by CCF and Torrid Analytics rescued 13 cubs. All of them are now under our living at the CCF Safe House in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The addition brings our total cheetah count to 46.
We take each one of these missions as an opportunity to refine our protocols for confiscations. CCF has procedures for regarding cub care rendered on scene and for evidence gathering, so the rescue missions are also training exercises for local Somaliland staff. While I cannot be in Somaliland now because of COVID-19, thanks to technology, myself and other staff can be on these missions virtually, offering direction and advice as each confiscation unfolds.
We are fortunate to work with the government of Somaliland, which is the most proactive of any collaborating on this issue. MoERD is an essential partner. The cooperation of the Selel Regional Administration, Somaliland Police Forces, and community members of Awdal and Selel regions were instrumental in the success. Advance field work for the missions was developed by Torrid Analytics, a research company that conducts complex research assignments for government and non-profit partners in the Horn of Africa.
Based on the information collected at the time of each confiscation, officials believe the cubs, ranging from about eight weeks to eight months, were taken from their mothers in the Horn of Africa in the western border regions of Ethiopia and Somaliland. One of the older cubs was reportedly held in the care of a local community member for several months after a trafficker from another region failed to find a buyer. All 13 were intended to be sold into the illegal pet trade.
The most recent mission was August 6, when the MoERD-CCF Rescue Team rescued five cubs along an illegal trade route near Xariirad. Two of the cubs are four-month-old females, 1.9kg & 2.1kg, extremely malnourished and dehydrated. The other three are a bit older, reported to be seven or eight months-old, but their age is difficult to discern because they are also dehydrated and very skinny. They appear to be much younger.
With so few cheetahs remaining in the Horn of Africa, each cub’s life is significant. We are hopeful for the 13 new arrivals. Although separated from their mother at a critical stage in their development, all of them are eating well and fighting to survive. They are active and playful, and we are looking forward to the day when we can move them to the permanent sanctuary CCF is planning outside the city, where they will have forever homes in a more natural setting. But for now, these cats are receiving the best care possible, and the environment they are in now is far preferable to where they were living. Most of these animals would not have survived more than a few more months due to improper care and nutrition. Now, thanks to our CCF teams and supporters around the world, these 46 cheetahs have a chance at life.
Our CCF IWT team is working around the clock to get to the root causes of the cheetah trade, so we can address this existential threat with conservation action that is balanced and well-matched. Each rescue mission informs us. Having just been through four in a row in less than three weeks’ time, our learning curve has accelerated, and despite not being able to travel to the Horn right now, I can attest COVID-19 is not slowing us down. We have to end this terrible trade.