Under the umbrella of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), cheetahs were the sole focus of attention for three days in Kuwait in early November. CCF, represented by Patricia Tricorache, had the honor of joining representatives from 13 countries and ten NGOs coming together to discuss ways in which to combat the taking of cheetahs from the wild for the illegal pet trade.
The workshop, hosted by the State of Kuwait's Environmental Protection Authority, was the result of over two years of intense work resulting from the inclusion of illegal cheetah trafficking as an agenda item at the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP 16) held in 2013, an ensuing report presented at the CITES Animal Committee and the Standing Committee meetings held in 2014, and an inter-sessional working group chaired by Kuwait.
While cheetahs face common threats like most other wildlife, including loss of habitat and conflict with humans, Africa's most beautiful and endangered big cat has also been a favorite exotic pet and companion to emperors, pharaohs, and nobles for thousands of years. Although still a wild animal with the potential of inflicting harm on humans, the cheetah's gentler disposition and smaller size relative to other big cats continue to make it an ideal companion and a symbol of status, mainly in the GCC States.
The demand for cheetahs, unfortunately, is sourced in its majority from areas where wild populations are already small and isolated --mostly in the Horn of Africa region. Cheetah cubs are removed from the wild, illegally, and transported mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia, and across the Indian Ocean to Yemen, where they are "distributed" in the black market throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
At CCF, we were first alerted to the potential magnitude of this trade back in 2005, when we organized the confiscation of two small cubs in Ethiopia. Since then, we began to actively gather intelligence and, whenever possible, organize confiscations, working closely with individuals, governments and NGOs in the area. According to our records -the most extensive currently available, over 100 cheetahs are taken for the illegal pet trade every year; this number, considering our limited ability to obtain information, is probably only a fraction of the real numbers. Furthermore, we have concluded that only one in six cheetah cubs ever make it to the "market." The rest simply die or disappear. Regardless of whether they survive or not, the loss to the conservation of the species is devastating, as even the cubs that have been rescued were too young when removed from their mothers and could not learn the skills needed to live like a wild cheetah.
The significance of this workshop is enormous. For the first time ever, CITES authorities from cheetah-range and destination countries, as well as the NGOs in attendance, had the opportunity to sit under one roof to identify issues and potential solutions concerning illegal cheetah trafficking.
Following a presentation by the IUCN on the current status of the cheetah, each country described challenges they face and best practices, while the CITES enforcement authority explained enforcement tools and services currently available. CCF was honored to share the stage with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and share information on the trade and recommendations on behalf of all the attending NGOs. These include the need for public awareness and demand reduction, capacity-building tools, international communications and cooperation, as well as improving enforcement and collaboration on the disposal of confiscated cheetahs. A document reporting on the workshop outcomes and proposed recommendations has been submitted to the CITES Standing Committee, which will discuss it during its upcoming meeting next January in Geneva, Switzerland.