Conservationists in the United Kingdom have joined the Cheetah Conservation Fund as a sponsor, to assess legal structures and help build human capacity to clamp down on the illegal trade of cheetahs between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula.

This week, the Otjiwarongo-based Cheetah Conservation Fund announced that it has received funding for one of its new eastern African projects from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Through a grant administered by the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, the project, known by the acronym LICIT – Legal Intelligence for Cheetah Illicit Trade — will increase awareness of wildlife laws along trade routes in Ethiopia, Somaliland, Somalia and Yemen and shut enforcement and legal loopholes exploited by poachers and smugglers.

Cheetah Conservation Fund founder and Executive Director, Dr Laurie Marker said they and their conservation partners are very pleased to have the support of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. With this assistance, the LICIT project will become active on 01 July.

The very small wild cheetah population in Ethiopia, Somaliland, Somalia and northern Kenya, is threatened by poachers who take the cubs from the wild and smuggle them to the Yemen. From there they are sold for thousands of dollars per cub to rich Arab households who deem a cheetah pet to be the ultimate status symbol.

In general, the cheetah cubs do not survive the ordeal, succumbing to malnourishment and disease so that many of them perish in less than three months with very few making it to two years.

“The goal is to build capacity in the chain of enforcement in each of the countries and create networks of key regional players using increased knowledge of more effective laws to foster public and private collaboration to reduce trafficking of cheetahs and other wildlife between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,” stated the fund.

Building on existing regional partnerships which the fund has cultivated since 2005, the LICIT project will be implemented through the combined effort of the project partners, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Legal Atlas.

To address an incomplete understanding of existing laws by enforcers, prosecutors, judges and community leaders that often hinders enforcement, Legal Atlas will perform an analysis of national laws, identify gaps and shortfalls and make recommendations to strengthen current legislation.

Through Training-of-Trainers workshops for cheetah stakeholders, the three partners will build capacity within the chain of enforcement, from confiscation to prosecution. The Cheetah Conservation Fund will implement LICIT training and workshops in Ethiopia and Somaliland with stakeholders from Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, and Ethiopia.