Blame social media for the population of cheetahs being wiped out.
Every year, some 300 cubs are illegally trafficked out of Somaliland into the Arabian Peninsula, where they are often sold as pets through Instagram and YouTube — next to car and cellphone ads, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
Many of these cheetahs, which can be bought for a mere $6,600, end up in Gulf Arab mansions of the super rich and have become the latest prized possession for social media bragging rights. Such posts show the status symbols being pushed into swimming pools, eating ice cream and lollipops and posing on luxe cars, CNN.com reported. One post showed a cheetah dying.
Globally, the three top sellers of pet cheetahs are based in Saudi Arabia, CCF has found, and for every cheetah successfully smuggled out of Somaliland every year, three die on the journey.
The organization, dedicated to saving cheetahs in the wild, said the situation has reached “epidemic proportions.” Most of those sold to private owners die within two years, as cheetahs have special diets and need freedom to roam.
“If you do the math, the math kind of shows that it’s only going to be a matter of a couple of years [before] we are not going to have any cheetahs,” Laurie Marker, an American conservation biologist and founder of CCF, told CNN.
Only 7,500 cheetahs are left in the wild, with another 1,000 held captive in Gulf countries, and “those people who have cheetahs as a pet are causing the species to go extinct,” Marker said.
Even though private ownership and sale of wild animals has been banned in many of the countries in the Arabian Peninsula, policing on the issue is lax.
CCF just rescued three cubs, only a few weeks old, from a smuggler in Somaliland caught by authorities. They will be raised in a CCF safe house, with the hope that they will be successfully released back into the wild.
Marker wants the leaders of the countries to help because “we really need influencers, we need the governments, the kings, the princes or the queens to actually say this is not right.”
The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Climate Change and Environment denied there were cheetahs in the country’s private houses in a statement to CNN, adding that any cheetahs in the country were in “licensed facilities.” The Saudi government did not respond to the network’s repeated requests for comment.
“Our Community Standards do not allow for the sale of endangered species or their parts, and we remove this material as soon as we are aware of it,” a Facebook company spokesperson said in a written statement to the outlet.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has pledged to reduce online trafficking by 80% by 2020, as part of joining the World Wildlife Fund’s Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.
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