Police hunt cheetah's owner in Sharjah

Exotic pet found on streets taken to animal refuge as police suspect the owner could live in the neighbourhood.

December 8, 2010-pictures of the cheetah that was captured from the mosque in Sharjah yesterday. It's now at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah. This photo is from them. Credit goes to : Kevin Budd, Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife
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SHARJAH // Police are hunting the owner of a cheetah found prowling the streets of Sharjah on Tuesday.

Authorities suspect the owner lived in one of three neighbourhoods, Al Mujjarah, Al Soor or Al Nabba, according to Lt Col Ahmed bin Darwish, the director of Sharjah police patrol unit. Keeping a cheetah in a residential area is against the law.

"Once the owner is found he will be prosecuted in court," he said. "We have in the past managed to find similar offenders who kept big snakes in residential areas and handed them over to prosecutors."

The female cheetah, caught near a mosque after being spotted swimming nearby, will be held in quarantine for seven weeks at Sharjah's Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife.

The animal appeared to be neither completely wild nor domesticated, judging from its comfort level around humans, said Paul Vercammen, the centre's operations manager. Quarantine is a standard procedure the centre takes with animals of uncertain origin because they may be carrying diseases or parasites that could spread to other species at the centre, many of which are endangered.

The cheetah was first sighted on Tuesday afternoon near the emirate's Radisson Blu hotel and dhow wharf before it dashed into a mosque. It may have come ashore off a boat from the wharf, Mr Vercammen said. Most cheetahs found in the Emirates have been smuggled in by sea or air from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Breeding centre staff drove to the mosque to capture the animal after a request from police. They found it lying down, apparently tired from being chased, and shot it with a tranquiliser dart.

The cheetah was then put into a steel-frame box and transported to the centre. It may end up joining 30 other cheetahs at the centre or be shipped abroad as part of an international breeding programme.

The illegal trade in cheetahs is caused by people seeking them as exotic pets. The centre has confiscated more than 60 such animals from airports and seaports over the past decade, though only one or two in the past year.

A cheetah cub can sell for US$60,000 on the black market.