An animal welfare group has expressed concern over cheetahs being kept as pets at farms, guest houses and lodges.
The Large Carnivore Management Association of Namibia (LCMAN) said in a media statement issued recently that it appears the number of cheetahs being kept captive or as pets in Namibia have increased over the past couple of years.
The organisation warned that the big cats should never be taken from the wild, and said the practice is illegal, according to the ministry of Environment and Tourism.
"Large carnivores, including cheetahs, do not make good pets. Cheetahs are delicate species which suffer from health-related issues and require special food and care, as well as physical and mental stimulation. If they do not get this proper care, they most often get sick", said Laurie Marker, chairperson of the LCMAN and founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
She said cheetahs are among Namibia's most precious resources, and the country is known internationally for having the world's largest remaining cheetah population, approximately 1 500 adults and adolescents out of the worldwide population of less than 7 500.
Marker stressed that people travel from all countries to Namibia to see the wildlife, and that tourism is one of the highest contributors to the economy.
"Please leave cheetahs where they belong. Help us help you to make a plan to live together," she urged. Not only is it against the law to keep a pet cheetah in Namibia, said LCMAN, but it is also detrimental to the animals.
LCMAN said the most prominent health issue seen in adult cheetahs and confiscated or rescued cubs held in registered facilities is malnutrition, which is accompanied by a variety of ailments such as bone deformities, stunted growth, irritable bowels, very low muscle mass, overweight, underweight, broken teeth, fractures, parasites and viruses.
Some also develop abnormal behavioural issues due to being frequently teased by visitors.
"At times, animal abuse occurs, with cheetahs being locked up in a garage or small cages for months with no access to sunlight. Recently, a confiscated cheetah cub had to undergo surgery to remove a toy rubber ball from its stomach," the statement reads.
LCMAN said most cheetahs held in registered facilities came in as orphaned or injured animals, and are unable to hunt on their own. Cubs are also received from farmers who have trapped or killed the adult animal because of human-wildlife conflict.
Other times, said the animal welfare group, people take cubs to keep them as pets, or because they feel they are acting as good Samaritans by rescuing cubs they find unattended in the bush.
The ministry of environment also condemned the practice of domesticating cheetahs and called upon all Namibians to refrain from undertaking such activities.
"Our conservation principles, laws and policies restrict keeping any wildlife species under captivity or as pets," said the ministry's public relations officer, Romeo Muyunda.
He said besides the financial and health challenges that may arise from keeping wildlife species in captivity, the practice impacts on the ecosystem as well as on the economic and social contribution from the sector.
"This practice is punishable by law and those found will be prosecuted or fined," Muyunda warned.