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article imageCheetahs are being wiped out and selfies are the reason

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 26, 2014 in Environment
Across the ages, men and women have always found ways to impress each other--the latest fashion trends, the newest dance moves, or maybe a photo with a cute puppy or kitten.
Now, our fast-paced lifestyles have upped the ante, and for many young men, especially in the Middle East, the new way to impress the ladies is to pose with your pet cheetah for a selfie. Unfortunately the trend, helped along by the social networks, has spurred rampant illegal trade in the magnificent cats, Takepart reports. It's driving some cheetah populations to extinction, a report issued by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has said.
Owning a big cat is also increasing in popularity in the US, according to The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS). There are an estimated 5000 to 7000 tigers in the US, but less than 400 of the cats are in zoos that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Keeping these beautiful felines in captivity is nothing more than cruel punishment for them, the HSUS reports.
"In captivity, big cats suffer immensely from being confined to cages that are magnitudes smaller than the vast distances they typically roam in the wild. Allowing private possession of these animals poses unnecessary and preventable risks to public safety--and to the welfare of the animals themselves," the HSUS reported in a statement.
This report, compiled by the HSUS shows just how dangerous these big cats can be.
Cheetahs, on the other hand, have milder dispositions, and, in most cases, the illegal trade in these big cats centers around populations in the Horn of Africa. This is where about 2500 of the world's remaining wild cheetahs live, Takepart reports. Cheetahs don't breed well in captivity and cubs are snatched from their mothers before being smuggled to the Middle East. Sadly, most cubs--five out of six--die along the way due to improper care. Smugglers don't make a huge profit from selling the cubs--at most they get $300 or less from the middlemen they sell to.
Smugglers haven't been observed snatching the cubs, Kristin Nowell, executive director of the Cat Action Treasury, and one of the authors of the CITES report told Takepart. One primary method, she noted, would be for Somali or northeast African trackers to track a mother with young cubs. Then they just scoop the cubs up--the mothers won't fight them.
Under normal circumstances, the cubs will stay with their mother for a year or two after they are born, but female cheetahs don't defend their cubs against big predators such as lions or humans, she said. Cubs can be stolen without harming the mother.
"But the population suffers from the removal of juveniles, therefore threatening the viability of the whole population," she said.
What makes this even more problematic is that cheetahs already have a low population density because juveniles are often preyed upon by other animals. The spike in smuggling has definitely worsened the situation.
CITES is an international agreement between signatory governments, and the organization aims to ensure that international trade in wildlife and plants doesn't threaten their survival. In regards to cheetah smuggling, the organization and its signatory nations will study the legal and illegal trade in wild cheetahs in order to assess the impact on wild populations.
Also on the agenda is a workshop to address the illegal pet trade and ways to reduce the demand for cheetahs and cheetah products, such as skins. Representatives from nations where cheetahs live, where the cats are smuggled through, and the countries where they end up will attend the workshop, Takepart reports.
The US is also cracking down and is including the cats in a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking.
"With such a substantial naval presence still in the Gulf of Aden, there is a great deterrent potential if even a fraction of these resources could be directed against illegal wildlife trade," Nowell said.
In the Middle East, keeping cheetahs as pets has long been a tradition. However, ownership was once restricted to the richest sheikhs, per Takepart. Now, the oil-rich region's affluence has overflowed and allowed more people to afford the cats, which can sell for as much as $10,000. It's less about tradition now, and more about posing with a cheetah in your sports car or on your speedboat, Nowell noted.
"There are hundreds of social media posts, including photos and videos of owners with their cheetah pets, and images taken by passersby of big cats cruising in cars or being walked on leash," CITES noted in its report.
Perhaps the young men who purchase these amazing cats are unaware of the damage they are causing to wild cheetah populations. They want to appear "cool" to the opposite sex, but a cheetah is wild at heart, and as such, belongs in the wild.
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