The conservation impacts of legal and illegal cheetah trade is again up for discussion at the 65th Standing Committee Meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered and Threatened Species (CITES) in Geneva. Cheetahs are currently listed as an appendix I species, but annotations made in 1992 allow for export quotas for live specimens and hunting trophies from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.Hunting and trading of live animals have been shown to have conservation value through removal of problem animals, money for conservation programs, and proliferation of the species through breeding programs. However, there are concerns with the poaching and illegal trade of live cheetahs potentially impacting the conservation of the species.
Legal trade in wild cheetahs (net exports, primarily hunting trophies from Namibia) has averaged 153 annually from 2002-2011. Captive-bred animals are also traded, with the main exporter being South Africa, legal exports average 88 annually over the same period. However, there has only been an average of three reported confiscation per year over the same period. There is fear that the illegal trade of live cheetahs is becoming more common, and that it is potentially threatening their existence in the wild.
At the Animals Committee Meeting in May, a report commissioned by the CITES Secretariat from the CAT and IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group found that level of illegal trade could be much higher than indicated by reported confiscations, threatening most wild populations. Cheetahs can be tamed relatively easily, especially if acquired while young. In the Gulf Regions of the Middle East and India cheetahs are trained to serve as royal hunting animals. They are also a status symbol among those who keep them as pets. This has led to increase the current demand for pet cheetahs and the trade in live animals.
A key finding of the report indicates that the primary organized source of demand is the exotic pet trade on the Arabian Peninsula. East Africa is generally thought to be the main supply point, but where exactly the supply is coming from is unknown. The cheetahs make a perilous journey to the Gulf States and the cubs that survive can fetch up to $10,000 USD.
Both the report from the CAT and IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group and the recommendations from the Animals Committee recommend working with the consumer countries to significantly step up their enforcement efforts. They state that range states should be supported in their efforts to improve monitoring of wild cheetah populations in order to detect and counter trade-related offtakes.Other measures should be considered, like education on the demands and challenges of big cat ownership, and the necessity for facilities to receive live confiscated cheetahs.
It is now up to the Standing Committee to make further recommendations on the continued trade of cheetahs. The Standing Committee has been charged with making recommendations on continuing trade in cheetahs based on the report and the recommendations from the Animals Committee.
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