Animals

Cheetah cubs threatened by pet trade, global warming in Somaliland

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Hungry cheetah cubs creak and pull their strings in white dust in Somaliland as a government vet pushes needles through their fluffy fur to feed them fluids and nutrients.

Cheetahs are only about five months old, dehydrated, stunted, and thus lack the calcium they normally get from their mother’s milk, leaving them with walking problems. But at least they are still alive.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund and the government of Somaliland – which seceded from Somalia in 1991 – have been rescuing smuggled baby cheetahs in the area for the past four years.

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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are only about 6,700 adult cheetahs left in the wild worldwide, and the population is still declining.

Kidnapped cubs are often destined for the exotic pet trade in the Middle East, but few people are aware of the suffering involved. Dr. Laurie Marker, head of CCF, said four or five cheetah cubs die for every one that reaches the market. Mothers are often killed.

She added that in their first year, CCF had taken in about 40 cubs in Somaliland. Many did not survive long. But by setting up caches and providing veterinary care, they were able to cut deaths almost to zero, she said. The organization now includes 67 cheetahs.

Droughts exacerbated by global warming are putting more pressure on cheetahs, she said, because less grazing supports fewer herds of wild prey and farm animals. She said farmers who once ignored it when a leopard attacked one of their animals are now less able to bear the losses.

“If a predator eats its cattle, it gets more angry,” she said. “They will go and track down the mother, where the cubs will be, and try to get money from the cubs to support the losses they have incurred.”

Environment Minister Shukri Ismail Haji said Somaliland plans to open a national park where leopards can roam.

But although the small breakaway region is in the range most affected by climate change, it does not have access to most environmental financing because hardly any global bodies recognize it as a separate country from Somalia, the minister said.

“We are an unrecognized government. The international funding we can get is very little as a result.”

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Editing by Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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