Three young cheetah have arrived at Born Free Foundation’s Wildlife Rescue Centre in Ethiopia following a dramatic rescue mission pulled together by Born Free Ethiopia and partners at the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA).

Originally confiscated from illegal trade as cubs in the remote reaches of Somaliland, the three females were transported to safety in a specially adapted Land Rover Defender, and placed with Guenther Wirth of NGO German Agro Action. Over the years Guenther has taken charge of many confiscated animals in Somaliland, returning them to health prior to their relocation to Ensessakotteh, Born Free’s Rescue Centre west of Addis Ababa.

The cheetah’s arrival at Ensessakotteh coincided with the official opening of a new on-site Visitor and Education Centre, which was attended by a number of VIP guests including former President of the FDRE, Girma Wolde-Giorgis and legendary actress and founder of the Born Free Foundation, Virginia McKenna OBE. The centre, which will be known as ‘The Treehouse’ will enable the team at Ensessakotteh to educate thousands of school children and visitors alike, on the importance of conversation, and care for endangered animals such as the rescued cubs.

Born Free’s Centre in Ethiopia cares for wild animals that have been rescued from trade. The facility currently cares for eleven cheetah, alongside rescued lions, primates, birds of prey and many other species.

Born Free Ethiopia Country Representative, Dr Zelealem Tefera, who helped organise the cheetah’s hand over at the Ethiopia-Somaliland border explained: “The illegal trade in cheetah is nothing short of alarming.  East Africa is being stripped of their fragile population to line the traders’ pockets and supply the irrational demand for exotic pets in the Middle East.  This is illegal, unsustainable and cruel.  It has to stop”.

Adam M Roberts, CEO of the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA added: “We are clamping down on this barbaric trade in vulnerable wild animals. Cheetah cubs are snatched at a very young age from the wild, with up to 70%  of these cubs found dead during confiscations. Recruitment back to the wild population is therefore virtually obliterated and this will ultimately result in the eventual extinction of cheetah from the Horn of Africa. I am proud that the Born Free Ethiopia team is leading the way in tackling the illegal trade head-on.”

While the care of these animals is a key priority for Born Free, it is vital that this illegal trade is tackled head on in this region. To that effect Born Free and partners EWCA are about to launch the Border Point Project, having secured three years of funding from DEFRA’s Illegal Wildlife Challenge Fund in the UK.

Headed by Fetene Hailu, this project will tackle illegal trade at key border point crossings into and out of Ethiopia.  Mr Hailu summed up the importance of this project: “Born Free has just taken in three cheetah.  While we could say these are the lucky ones – what does their confiscation and rescue really reflect?  That others have died along the way and their removal may well mean the poachers are out there now looking for replacements to supply the demand.  While all aspects of trade must be tackled, the Border Point Project will be vital in closing down the trade routes from Ethiopia. We must make trade non-viable for the people who snatch these animals and try to take them over our borders.”

The Born Free Foundation is committed to ending the illegal trade in wild animals and caring for those individuals who are misplaced by this practice.

To find out more about its vital work, including projects in Ethiopia, visit www.bornfree.org.uk