TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
THE CONTEXT: A plea has been made by a consortium of experts to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to reclassify the status of the Northeast African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii), residing in the Horn of Africa, to ‘endangered’ from its current status of ‘vulnerable’.
- The prime concern revolves around the drastic decline in the genetic diversity of this cheetah subspecies due to the illegal trafficking of its cubs to Arab nations, primarily Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Trafficking Impacting Genetic Diversity
- The illegal trade in cubs across the Red Sea has resulted in a severe reduction in the already limited genetic diversity of the soemmeringii subspecies.
- With a scant population, this trafficking further endangers the cheetah’s genetic integrity, compelling the experts to appeal for an immediate change in its IUCN classification.
- The researchers have also called upon global cheetah specialists to delve deeper into the subspecies’ condition to potentially label it as ‘critically endangered’.
Genetic Assessment and Trafficking Origin
- Genetic analysis conducted on 55 confiscated cheetahs from illegal traffickers between 2016 and 2019 revealed that all individuals were genetically identified as 100% soemmeringii.
- These trafficked cheetahs were seized from Somaliland, a region recognized by Ethiopia and situated on Somalia’s Red Sea coast, directly facing Yemen.
- The last count estimated the soemmeringii population to be between 260 and 590 mature individuals.
- As most trafficked cubs seldom survive, the continuous illegal trade exacerbates the population decline.
- This ongoing offtake, coupled with human-wildlife conflicts and habitat loss, accelerates the depletion of genetic diversity within the subspecies.
Reclassification Criteria and implications
- The situation aligns with criterion C2a(i) of the IUCN Red List, indicating a substantial population decline, urging the immediate reclassification of the subspecies as ‘endangered’.
- Moreover, the circumstances may warrant consideration for criteria A2 or A3, reflecting a ‘critically endangered’ status, as proposed by the researchers.
- Reclassifying the Northeast African Cheetah will potentially stimulate stakeholder support, facilitate access to restricted funding reserved for endangered species, and enhance both national and international protective measures against illegal trade.
- The experts emphasize the critical need for swift action to safeguard Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii from imminent extinction risks exacerbated by the illicit trafficking trade.
- The study advocating for the reclassification of the imperiled Northeast African cheetah subspecies, threatened by illegal trade and genetic erosion, has been published in the Conservation Science and Practice journal.
Conclusion: Immediate Action Required
- The urgency to reclassify the Northeast African Cheetah from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ is paramount to ensure its survival.
- The plight faced by soemmeringii due to illegal trafficking necessitates swift and decisive measures to protect the subspecies from further decline and imminent extinction.