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Animal welfare authorities say the “urban cheetah,” which had a broken metal chain around its neck, was likely kept as an exotic pet.
A cheetah was found prowling the streets of Abu Dhabi, the Persian Gulf city famed for its skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls.
The “urban cheetah” was found roaming among residential villas in Abu Dhabi’s Karama district with a broken metal chain around its neck, The Associated Press reports.
The cheetah, which animal rescue workers said appeared to be 7 or 8 months old, also had an injured front left paw — perhaps from leaping off a roof, where some exotic pet owners keep their animals, Raghad Auttabashi of the Al Rahma Animal Welfare and Rescue Society told the AP.
Animal control officers managed to catch the cheetah and it was handed over to a wildlife conservation center.
Cheetahs are the world's fastest land animals, reaching speeds of up to 75 mph in short bursts. They can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in three seconds, usually while hunting prey.
The big cats once roamed wide swaths of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and today are mainly found in East Africa and southern Africa. They are no longer considered native to the Arabian peninsula.
Cheetahs are listed as a vulnerable species — at risk of becoming endangered — and suffer from a loss of habitat and prey. The animals, which almost never attack humans, have come into conflict with farmers in Africa after hunting their sheep and goats. Conservation groups have launched programs where Anatolian shepherd dogs are given to farmers to guard their herds, reducing human-cheetah conflict.
This is not the first time an exotic animal has been found roaming streets in the United Arab Emirates.
In December, a cheetah was captured in Sharjah, the emirate just north of Dubai. Witnesses saw the cat swimming off a wharf, and then prowling past a Radisson Blu hotel before entering a mosque.
The illegal trade in cheetahs and other rare animals in the UAE is due to wealthy people keeping them as exotic pets.
Earlier this month, airport authorities in Bangkok arrested an Emirati citizen who was trying to smuggle drugged baby animals, including leopards, panthers and an Asiatic black bear cub, to Dubai.