Cheetahs are being smuggled in record numbers, from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East, where they are considered luxury pets.
The 2014 CITES Convention provided the first comprehensive overview of the global cheetah trade. Up until now, the public and conservation world in general did not fully appreciate the dire situation that cheetahs are facing.
Cheetahs have lost about 90% of their historical range in the last century. It is estimated less than 10,000 remain in the wild, mostly in the savannahs of Africa and a very small Asiatic population in Iran. The largest population is found in Southern Africa, where trophy hunting is common. The cheetah population in Eastern Africa provides the majority of the cheetahs being traded as luxury pets. This practice is increasing and having a negative impact on wild populations.
The cheetah is the least dangerous of the big cats. There is no record of a cheetah ever killing a human. Cubs are also unusually easy to tame, which is perhaps why the demand for cheetahs as luxury pets is so high. Cubs are confiscated from Eastern Africa and smuggled across worn-torn Africa to the Gulf States of the Middle East. The toll of this trade is gruesome, with up to two-thirds of all cubs smuggled dying en route.
The smallest population of cheetahs left is the Asiatic cheetah in Iran, with numbers hovering around 100 cheetahs. The pet trade may further endanger this population. Panthera’s Iranian Cheetah Project is currently working on collecting data to develop a conservation strategy for the Asiatic Cheetah.
Nations at both ends of the cheetah trade have recognized this as a serious problem and have agreed that urgent action is needed. A new CITES working group was set up in response to the report and will work with the countries to curb the illegal trade in cheetahs with better law enforcement. Now that the conservation world has recognized how serious the problem is, it’s important that the general public is also aware and that support is given to the groups trying to preserve the wild cheetah population.