By Rupi Mangat

Nairobi, Sept 13 – An excited Patricia Tricorache calls to tell about a landmark court case on 27 August 2018 in Somaliland that has ruled in favour of cheetahs. Tricorache, assistant director for strategic communications of the Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has been monitoring the illegal wildlife trade in cheetahs since 2005.

It began with a phone call from a US marine in Ethiopia in November 2005, who was concerned about a pair of cheetah cubs tied with a rope around their necks and malnourished. They were used to entice customers to the restaurant. The marine officer found the CCF contact on an internet search and called. He had also been offered the cubs for sale.

It set the wheels in motion. Tricorache began monitoring cases of cheetahs being smuggled out of Africa to the Middle East and beyond. The spotted felines are advertised on the internet on social platforms. The horrific treatment of this endangered cat includes a 200-kilometrE sail across the Gulf of Aden to exotic pet owners who are usually clueless on how to care for cheetahs. In any case, most are dead within a few months. From Tricorache’s data base, at least 300 cheetah cubs from the wild are being smuggled out of Africa — the only continent that is now their home — to continents beyond.

Tricorache’s excitement is palpable because it is the first court case CCF has won in Somaliland.

“The two smugglers were arrested during the confiscation of six cubs on August 5, in El Sheikh near Berbera, on the coast,” tells the excited cheetah crusader. “The cheetahs were in terrible shape but all are alive. Still, we had to take them to the courtroom as evidence; you can’t possibly imagine how crazy that was.”

The subjects were charged with wildlife trafficking and sentenced to three years in prison with a fine of $300 each. Both smugglers were the same from whom nine cubs were confiscated in April 2017, but were not jailed at that time. All nine cubs from that confiscation ended up dying within three months.

The Never-Ending Trade

But just as CCF and the Somaliland officials were celebrating the convictions, CCF got two more cheetah cubs aged six weeks. “It just never ends,” continues Tricorache. “Right now we have 12 cheetahs under our care in Hargeisa, Somaliland. And that’s not counting all the other animals the government has confiscated and turned over to us: 5 caracals, 2 vultures, 1 owl, several antelopes…”

Somaliland is a self-declared state, but internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia, and is the main transit route for cheetah trafficking out of East Africa. An estimated 300 cheetahs are taken into the Arabian Peninsula each year to be sold in the illegal pet trade. CCF has been working to counter this trade since 2005, and in 2011 began building a local network and establishing working relationship with government authorities. Since then, CCF has assisted with the confiscation, care and placement of 47 cheetahs.

Just a few days before the trial, the Somaliland’s Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Law was ratified by the Cabinet. The Hon Shukri Ismail, Minister of Environment and Rural Development, stated that she “welcomed the decision by the cabinet to ratify legal international polices that govern dealing with the Conservation of Fauna (Wildlife) and Flora (Plants) in Somaliland,” adding that the country has now officially ratified five international and regional agreements including the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

“Cheetah trafficking in East Africa is of great concern, as cheetah populations in the affected areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya are scarce and already facing numerous threats such as loss of habitat and conflict with humans,” said Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and CEO of CCF. “It is not often that confiscations end with a conviction,” she added. “We commend and applaud the Somaliland courts for this important landmark.”

CCF is a global leader in the research and conservation of cheetahs founded in Namibia in 1990. Action for Cheetahs in Kenya is an offshoot of CCF.