Born Free USA Global Field Projects
(Photograph by Born Free Ethiopia)
It was intended to be a simple trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the meeting of the Board of Directors of Born Free Foundation Ethiopia (BFFE), of which I am a proud member, and to see our wildlife sanctuary there. It turned into a rescue mission for four cheetah cubs delivered from neighboring Somaliland.
On April 23, 2012, a white Land Rover drove up to the gates of Ensessakotteh, the Wildlife Rescue, Conservation, & Education Centre run by Born Free Foundation Ethiopia in partnership with the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia’s Wildlife Conservation authority (Ensessakotteh is the Amharic word for “animal footprint”). In the back, in a handmade wooden crate with a partition inside, rode four cheetah cubs, all approximately 7 months old.
There is a robust and alarming trade of live cheetah cubs from Ethiopia and other countries in the region to the Middle East where they are kept as pets. Smuggling is rife and a cheetah could fetch $5,000 for the wildlife peddler, ultimately selling for four to five times that amount at the destination point.
For four months these cheetahs were cared for by a nongovernmental organization worker in Somaliland from a German organization that helps people in the area with agricultural development to overcome poverty. Guenther had a choice: return them to dangerous wildlife dealers, send them to a zoo in Djibouti, or place them with us. Monday morning he was delivering them to Born Free after a 12-hour journey through the night that began with armed soldiers trying to prevent their departure. This mission was both courageous and compassionate.
It is unknown where the cheetahs originated — they could have indeed been smuggled from Ethiopia. If so, this relocation would be repatriation.
These yet-to-be-named (lucky) cheetah cubs join half a dozen other cheetah rescues residing at the sanctuary. Some will remain there for life, cared for by dedicated employees from the surrounding towns; others will be rehabilitated and released to live a wild and free life.
Other animals in residence include an eagle owl, baboons and geladas, leopard tortoises, and lions. Safia, the lioness, was rescued in 2009 from a wooden shack where she was poked with sticks and pelted with rocks by local children. Her foot was badly damaged by this abuse. She resides next to Dolo, a male lion who was chained 24 hours a day around his neck, malnourished and so sickly that he had no mane.
Having seen the original pictures of Dolo I can honestly say that seeing him now — stronger, full mane, active — was inspiring. And hearing his roar at dinner time was one of the most stirring sounds I’ve heard in a long time!
Lions freed from chains, cheetah cubs saved from wildlife dealers — we have our work cut out for us in Ethiopia just as we do in North America. With Born Free on the ground in country, wild animals really do stand a fighting chance.