Animal poaching continues to be a major issue in the conservation of many animal species. Despite efforts to stop poaching, it continues to persist. Many people do not realise the extent of the problem and the effect that it is having on the world’s wildlife, as well as the environment in general.

Sadly, poaching is a very lucrative business, and therefore, it can continue without becoming a political priority. In southern Africa a poacher can sell a rhino horn for around 100 times more than the average wage of a standard villager who lives in their community.

Poverty, especially rural poverty across Africa, remains a big issue and unfortunately poaching is becoming an increasingly attractive career. In fact, poaching has become more of a sophisticated business in recent years, with helicopters, night-vision equipment, and tranquilisers all being used to kill sought-after animals in the dark, when local police are less likely to be patrolling the area.

Poaching is not solely limited to killing animals in the wild; birds, reptiles and primates are often captured and then sold as exotic pets, often to owners who do not take care of them properly. I’ve been following a story about animal smuggling into the GCC.

There is a growing demand for exotic pets in the GCC, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and this is fuelling the smuggling of cheetahs out of Ethiopia. Every month, at least four cheetahs are being smuggled to the Gulf. Smugglers sell the animals for more than $10,000 to wealthy families.

Only 7,100 cheetahs are left in the wild, at least 90 per cent of them in Africa. Cheetahs are an endangered species, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Ethiopians are being financially lured into capturing and selling cheetah cubs and they are paid between 10,000 and 15,000 Ethiopian birr ($310-466) for each cub.

Smugglers then move the animals to Hargeisa, the capital of self-declared independent Somaliland, and then trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the UAE through Yemen. The cubs are sold on the black market for more than $10,000 to rich people who want to keep them as exotic pets and as a status symbol.

Already in 2020 security forces in Saudi Arabia have reportedly arrested people accused of trying to smuggle cheetahs into the country. They say they noticed movements in bags that a group were carrying on their backs. The bags were opened, and the cheetahs discovered, Al Madina news agency reported.

Conservationists say many cheetahs die on their journey to the Gulf states, and that the illegal trade is threatening to wipe out their populations in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia.

Sadly, wildlife products are not often seized by the authorities as they simply do not see it as a priority. However, if poachers and illegal traders felt more under threat from the government, law enforcement officers and/or the private sector, they may think twice about trying to traffic wildlife products.

The problem of corruption also needs to be addressed, with people in power being made accountable for their actions, to act as a deterrent in the future.

Finally, it is a case of supply and demand and if there is no demand for these products, then poachers will stop slaughtering these animals. We must change consumer behaviour and change attitudes when it comes to keeping wildlife as exotic pets.

Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at