Cheetah smuggling 'driving species towards extinction'
Demand for cheetahs as luxury pets in the Middle East is threatening wild populations
The future of cheetahs in the wild is under threat as a result of cubs being smuggled into the Middle East to feed the demand for exotic pets, new research suggests.
The Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species (Cites) found that almost two-thirds of smuggled cheetah cubs die in transit.
According to the Guardian, the study revealed that large numbers of cheetah cubs are being taken from the Horn of Africa to be "trafficked by boat from Somalia to Yemen and then by road into the Gulf states".
The wild cheetah population in the Horn of Africa "numbers about 2,500" large cats, the paper says, and "fewer than 10,000 [wild cheetahs] remain" worldwide.
Cheetah smuggling in Africa, Asia, and Iran has risen in recent years because of demand for big cats as luxury pets in Gulf countries.
The Cites study, which includes photos of domesticated cheetahs being walked on leashes and sitting in car passenger seats, says "the keeping of big cats in residential areas across the Arabian peninsula poses serious environmental and safety risks, both to people as well as the cats".
Cites calls for stronger international cooperation between nations with high smuggling rates.
Nick Miller, a contributor to the report, told The Guardian he was "cautiously optimistic" that a working group formed in response to the problem "would curb the illegal trade in cheetahs with better law enforcement".
Cites' head of science, David Morgan, said that Gulf nations were ready to confront the issue. "Middle Eastern countries spoke up very clearly and this has been a positive development," he said. "Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait all recognised the problem."