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How trafficked cheetah cubs move from the wild and into your Instagram feed

This is an excerpt from an article and campaign written by Rachel Bale and published online by National Geographic on 17 August, 2021

Criminal networks in Somaliland smuggle cubs out of Africa to wealthy buyers abroad. Now the breakaway African state is fighting back.

Fewer than 7,000 adult cheetahs are left in the wild, according to recent estimates, most in southern and eastern Africa. International commercial trade of cheetahs has been banned since 1975. Even so, from 2010 through 2019, more than 3,600 live cheetahs were for sale or sold illegally worldwide, with only about 10 percent intercepted by law enforcement, says Patricia Tricorache, a researcher with Colorado State University who’s been tracking the cheetah trade for 15 years. Taking cheetahs from the wild has been illegal in Somaliland since 1969.

Habitat loss and retaliatory killings by herders when cats prey on their livestock are the biggest threats to the cheetah’s survival, compounded by the illegal trade in cubs. Babies, often still nursing and dependent, are snatched from the wild while their mothers are hunting or when a lactating mother is tracked back to her den. On foot and by camel, car, and boat, traffickers move the cubs through the Horn of Africa and across the narrow Gulf of Aden to Yemen, a journey of 200 miles or more that can take weeks. Cubs that survive are sold as pets in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Kuwait, and other Gulf countries.