If you really like cheetahs – don’t “Like” social media posts of people with their “pet” cheetahs!
Social media has popularized the idea that cheetahs are the ultimate luxury accessory among wealthy Gulf State influencers, turning the endangered cat into a hot commodity among those who want to emulate them. Posts of cheetahs in glittering collars lounging in front of the TV or riding around in luxury vehicles proliferate on Instagram and other social media platforms, the sleek glamor of the cats burnishing the image of their owners. Even with prices topping out around $30,000, baby cheetahs are still a more accessible status symbol than the car.
And if you click “like” on a post featuring a cheetah riding in a Lamborghini, you won’t even have to leave Instagram to find someone willing to sell you a cub of your own. The algorithms will quickly alert illegal dealers of your potential interest. If you like cheetahs, don’t Like or react to those posts on social media.
Many people are not aware that every step in the process that turns a cheetah from a wild animal to an exotic pet involves a crime, beginning with the poacher who steals the cub from its mother in contravention of cheetah’s status as a protected species, the courier who smuggles it along with other contraband by boat to Yemen, the dealer who illegally markets it on Instagram, and the Gulf State clients more interested in wooing Instagram followers than in acknowledging that owning exotic animals is against the law. This is a destructive criminal market built to do nothing more than plump someone’s ego.
What’s not to Like?
The survival rate of trafficked cubs is as low as one in four. That means for each post of a cheetah cruising around the Gulf in a luxury car, three cubs had to die. Those that do survive and make it to market have, at most, an average lifespan of 2 years — and no chance to reproduce. Left in the wild, as they should, they would have the chance to generate offspring and at least keep the size of the population stable. Captured and sold they represent a loss, not only of themselves but of any potential offspring they might have produced. And that is an existential threat to cheetahs, because globally they are dying at a rate faster than they are being born.
There are a mere 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago, and the numbers are diminishing quickly. Breeding cheetahs in captivity is extremely challenging and not adequate to grow the population. That makes every cheetah cub born in the wild critical to the survival of the species. In East African range states where most of the cheetah cubs appearing in social media are poached, the adult and adolescent cheetah population is estimated to be around 300. In 2020 alone, more than 300 cubs were reported in illegal trade incidents, and less than 20% were rescued. That means 300 cubs will not contribute to the repopulating of their extremely vulnerable species. Instead of roaming free, and maintaining a balanced eco-system, these fastest land mammals in the world will be confined and leashed, spending their days as a prop in Instagram posts while their lineages and their species are destroyed. The power to save the cheetah is literally in your hands!
What’s not to Like?
Everything. When you Like a post featuring a pet cheetah you offer approbation, encouragement to others, and moral cover, normalizing the crime as if it were appealing and even cool. Click “Like” on an Instagram post of a celebrity or socialite featuring a cheetah as a pet or a tourist attraction, and you are unwittingly helping to grow this criminal market, and destroy this iconic species.
What’s not to Like?
The negative impact is not just ecological. In many of East African range states, the money that traffickers distribute for goods and services makes them a potent and disruptive force, exploiting insecure economies and undermining rule of law. Instability is a bonus for criminals of all stripes, so they have no incentive to help strengthen the communities in which they operate — indeed just the opposite. Chaos is good for business, as we saw during COVID when illegal cheetah trafficking out of East Africa increased by 58%, putting untenable stress on the survival of the species. Social media, in particular Instagram, hostmore than 80% of the online advertisements selling cheetahs, making tech platforms a key driver in precipitous population decline.
Just one “like” is helping this deadly, illegal business.
Patricia Tricorache is an illegal wildlife trade expert who has been researching the trafficking of cheetahs and other species since 2005, and is a member of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.