x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Cheetah owners club would increase smuggling, expert says

Dubai scientist claims it would lead to more smuggling of cubs, and denies the big cats are well looked after by Emirates collectors.

One of the cheetah cubs taken in by the Al Ain Zoo after being smuggled into Dubai. A conservationist believes a cheetah owners club could increase the illegal trade.
One of the cheetah cubs taken in by the Al Ain Zoo after being smuggled into Dubai. A conservationist believes a cheetah owners club could increase the illegal trade.

DUBAI // A wildlife expert has criticised plans to set up a club for cheetah owners , warning it could lead to an increase in the number of cubs smuggled into the country.

Dr Reza Khan, a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, said: "We cannot have a club for cheetah owners because this is not a pet animal.

"It will encourage more smuggling. It is bound to open a mad race to become the proud owner of as many cheetahs as possible by club members."

Dr Khan also questioned a suggestion that most captive cheetahs in the country were well looked after. He quoted the case of the young animal recently found wandering the streets of Karama in the capital, with a heavy chain around its neck and a broken foreleg.

The idea for a cheetah club was raised last week by the conservationist Dr Mordecai Ogada, of Kenya, who is calling for a campaign in the UAE to raise awareness of the damage caused to wild populations by the illegal trade in cubs.

The club would raise funds for or sponsor conservation and research, and organise trips to see wild cheetahs in Africa.

Dr Ogada, the East African co-ordinator of a cheetah conservation programme, said most captive cheetahs in the UAE were loved and cared for at great expense.

"Where they are not well cared for, this is a result of ignorance, not malice, on the part of the owners," he said.

But Dr Khan, from Dubai, said: "The statement is totally wrong when you see the poor cheetah found roaming in Abu Dhabi with a huge chain locked around its neck and a portion dangling from it." He said some cheetahs in the UAE were kept in good conditions with huge areas of land in which to roam, but added: "No wild cats should be kept as a pet or in private collections, where most lead an imprisoned life as they are kept in below-standard cages."

The cheetah is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species as being threatened with extinction, and trade in the animals is illegal except in exceptional circumstances.

Dr Khan said the animal's conservation status meant it would be wrong to start a club.

Dr Ogada said: "Overall, my personal feelings don't differ from Dr Khan's. If I had my way, nobody would keep any wild animal captive, ever. But conservation is a people issue and social sensitivity is paramount.

"There are definitely cheetahs, and dog, cats, parrots … that are badly treated in the UAE, and all over, but there are those that are well treated and we want a club that can help or force every cheetah owner to treat them well."

The Cheetah Conservation Fund, which runs a number of programmes intended to ensure the long-term survival of the world's fastest land animal, has backed the proposals from an educational point of view.

Dr Laurie Marker, the founder and director of thefund in Namibia, said: "I applaud Dr Ogada's plan to stem the illegal trade of wild cheetah cubs from Africa to the Middle East.

"Dr Ogada plans to educate private cheetah owners about the threat to wild cheetahs posed by the illegal pet trade.

"I doubt if the people who have purchased cheetah cubs realise that only about one in four smuggled cubs survives the journey, or that the mother was more than likely killed to get the cubs.

"Despite, or perhaps due in part to their threatened status, cheetahs are still considered a prestigious possession in certain parts of the world.

"I call upon citizens of these areas, and specifically the UAE, to declare cheetah ownership a shameful, rather than prestigious, practice.

"Those who truly admire and appreciate the cheetah will do all they can to perpetuate the species in the wild.

"And for most people that means speaking out about the flourishing illegal pet trade of cheetahs in the UAE and other areas of the Middle East."

csimpson@thenational.ae