x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Al Ain sanctuary for smuggled cubs

Wildlife resort provides home for five young cheetahs that survived an attempt to smuggle them into the country.

The surviving kittens are aged between four and seven weeks old.
The surviving kittens are aged between four and seven weeks old.

AL AIN // Five cheetah cubs that survived an attempt to smuggle them into the country have been given a new home at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort. The cubs were found by Customs officials at Dubai International Airport on Tuesday following an attempt to smuggle 15 of the animals into the UAE from Somalia. Six were already dead when the discovery was made, while a further four have since died. The survivors, two males and three females, are aged between four weeks old and seven weeks old.

Dr Arshad Toosy, the park's head veterinarian, said the cubs were emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished when they arrived at the park."They suffered from a lack of food, water and care, were suffering from diarrhoea and were extremely underweight," Dr Toosy said. "It's a good thing now that they are eating solid foods. They are being fed chicken and a special carnivore diet and being given vitamins and antibiotics."

The cubs have been quarantined at the park and will remain there for 30 days before being vaccinated. The park, which already has a number of cheetahs, will then decide what to do with them. "We may include them in our collection or introduce them into our breeding programme or other programmes in collaboration with other zoos, such as the species survival programme," said Farshid Mehrdadfar, the park's animal collections manager.

"There are a number of different options we still have to look into as we weren't planning on their arrival, they were just dropped on us. But we are happy to have them and care for them." Dr Toosy said: "The kittens were taken from their mother when they were about two weeks old. This many kittens must have come from six to eight adult females. It's not easy to take a wild animal from its mother, so maybe the mothers were killed."

The cheetahs can only be exported under strict guidelines. Although it is not clear what the smugglers - two Emiratis and a Somali national who have since been jailed - were planning to do with the cheetahs, there are several Arabic forums in the UAE that list exotic animals for sale. One advertises a four-month-old cheetah for Dh45,000. Though cheetahs may appear cute and cuddly when they are young, they are naturally aggressive and become dangerous as they grow older. "This is definitely not an animal to be considered a pet, and definitely not one you would want around you or your children," Dr Toosy said.