Illegal Wildlife/Pet Trade


For thousands of years, the elite of the ancient world kept cheetahs in captivity. The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt kept cheetahs as companions and represented them in artwork. Persian shahs, Italian nobles, Russian princes, and Indian royalty kept cheetahs for hunting and as status symbols representing their wealth and rank. Because cheetahs could not easily breed in captivity, individuals were taken from the wild to support the demand. The ancient pet trade diminished wild cheetah populations, especially in Asia. The demand for pet cheetahs is most likely the primary cause of the extinction of the Asiatic cheetah across the majority of its former range. Very small populations remain in the wild.

Sultan Ghazan Khan issues a new regulation for falconers and hunters, c. 1590., Werner Forman / Art Resource, NY

Cheetahs As Pets Today

Today, there is still a high demand for cheetahs as pets. However in many countries it is illegal to take animals like cheetahs from the wild. The illegal trade in wildlife parts and live animals is estimated to be worth billions. It is highly organized and linked to other organized criminal activities.

Cheetah cubs are captured from the wild and then smuggled through the Horn of Africa, destined primarily for the Middle East, where demand is the highest. CCF estimates that only one in six cubs survives the journey to buyers. Cheetah cubs have specialized dietary needs that are not easily met and can easily perish due to malnutrition or inadequate veterinary treatment. Even if cubs are intercepted and confiscated their chances of survival are extremely slim. Caring for these animals is a challenge to even the most experienced wildlife veterinarian.

Illegal Pet Trade - Cheetah on the hood of a luxury car
A pet cheetah on the hood of a luxury car in the Middle East

How CCF is Helping to End the Illegal Pet Trade

With the help of regional partners and at the request of local governments, CCF facilitates confiscations whenever possible. Although geographically widespread, most reported cases of smuggled cheetah cubs involve the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

Since 2005, CCF has actively participated in the fight against illegal pet trade in cheetahs. CCF’s involvement began with the confiscation of two cheetah cubs outside a small restaurant in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

In 2007, CCF became a founding member of the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), a voluntary public-private coalition started by the Bureau of Oceans and International Scientific and Environmental Affairs of the US Department of State.

In 2013, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) tabled the issue of cheetah trafficking at its 13th Conference of the Parties (CoP13) held in Bangkok. Since then, CCF has been working with CITES and non-government organizations (NGO), to address issues such as law enforcement, demand reduction, procedures for the placement of confiscated cheetahs, and cyber-crime.

To support law enforcement in establishing the origin of confiscated cheetahs, CCF collects cheetah DNA samples to add to its database under the proper CITES permits.

Illegal Pet Trade - Awareness campaign posters - I Am Not A Pet slogan
Poster developed in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Environmental Office (REO) for East Africa
Illegal Pet Trade - Awareness campaign posters in Ethiopia
Dr. Marker and Patricia Tricorache meet with Born Free Foundation in Ethiopia

How You Can Help

If you see or hear about illegal activities in involving cheetahs or cheetah products, please contact us. Your report will be handled with absolute confidentiality.

Spread the word. Cheetahs (and other wild animals) don’t make good pets. They are incredibly hard to care for, need specialized diets, expensive veterinary care, and huge amounts of space to run and exercise in order to stay healthy. And, while they are the least aggressive and the smallest of the big cats they are not a domestic animal. Read and share CCF’s blogs about the cubs caught up in the illegal pet trade. By sharing these stories you may help increase awareness on the true toll of the illegal pet trade.

Engage in responsible tourism. Don’t buy products that are derived from endangered animals or patronize the stores that sell them, even if you’re told the products are legally obtained.

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