Experts: Northeast African Cheetah’s Status Should Be Upgraded to Endangered

A group of experts have requested that the Northeast African cheetah’s conservation status be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. This subspecies, known scientifically as Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii, is found in the Horn of Africa.

Trafficking of Cubs to Arabian Peninsula

The key reason for the appeal is that cubs of this cheetah subspecies are being heavily trafficked from the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea to countries on the Arabian Peninsula like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. This trafficking is greatly reducing the already small population and genetic diversity of A. j. soemmeringii.

Small Wild Population

The most recent population estimate for wild A. j. soemmeringii is only 260-590 mature individuals. Since most illegally trafficked cubs die in captivity, this trafficking represents a major and sustained population loss that will lead to further declines.

Added Threats

On top of trafficking, the Northeast African cheetah faces habitat degradation and conflict with farmers over livestock predation. These issues are also causing population declines and loss of genetic diversity.

Evidence to Support Reclassification

The evidence to uplist its status from vulnerable to endangered comes from genetic analysis of 55 illegally trafficked cheetahs confiscated between 2016-2019. The analysis showed all 55 cheetahs were A. j. soemmeringii, indicating regional trafficking is focused on this subspecies.

Under IUCN criteria, this trafficking and associated population declines are enough evidence to categorize A. j. soemmeringii as endangered. The cheetahs were confiscated in Somaliland, a region of Somalia that borders Yemen. Recently, Ethiopia granted recognition to Somaliland to get access to its Red Sea ports.

Potential Upgrade to Critically Endangered Status

The researchers also urged investigating whether the factors threatening A. j. soemmeringii qualify it as critically endangered rather than just endangered. This would better reflect the grave extinction risk caused by trafficking on top of other population pressures.

Boosting Protection for the Subspecies

Upgrading its status to endangered or critically endangered would help in several ways. It would spur greater support and commitment from stakeholders to protect A. j. soemmeringii. Conservation funding targeted to endangered species could also help populations recover. Finally, heightened legal protections would hamper trafficking networks.

Preventing the extinction of the Northeast African cheetah requires limiting the illegal cub trade as well as maintaining habitat connectivity so populations can grow. Local people must also be involved in conservation efforts. With coordinated action guided by the best science, it should be possible to ensure this unique cheetah continues roaming the Horn of Africa’s arid landscapes.



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