DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, (AP)– A city of gleaming skyscrapers along the Persian Gulf hardly seems a fitting habitat for a cheetah, but there it was prowling among residential villas in Abu Dhabi.
An animal welfare activist who helped rescue the urban cheetah on Sunday said it might have been kept as a pet and had an injured front left paw — perhaps from leaping off a roof, where some owners of exotic pets keep their animals.
Raghad Auttabashi of the Al Rahma Animal Welfare and Rescue Society said the big cat appeared to be 7 or 8 months old and was found with a broken metal chain around its neck.
It’s not clear how the cheetah got free in Abu Dhabi’s Karama district, a short drive from the skyscrapers lining the Emirati capital’s waterfront.
Animal control authorities rounded up the cheetah, which was later handed over to a wildlife conservation center, Auttabashi said. Photos she took at the scene showed the spotted animal being held in a cage in the back of a van with its injured paw held off the ground.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and once lived across wide areas of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But they are no longer believed to have any native habitats on the Arabian peninsula.
They are listed as a vulnerable species, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered. International trade in the animals is restricted, though some limited export is allowed from certain African countries.
It’s not the first time an exotic animal has been found roaming streets in the United Arab Emirates.
In December, a cheetah was captured near a mosque in Sharjah, the emirate just north of Dubai. Witnesses saw that cat swimming off a port and then prowling past a hotel and offices.
Thai authorities arrested an Emirati citizen at Bangkok’s international airport earlier this month after they found drugged baby leopards, panthers, a bear and monkeys in his suitcases. Authorities there believe he is part of a wildlife trafficking network.
And over the weekend, two sick lions that Emirati authorities rescued from a home where they were being kept illegally underwent dental surgery. Local media reported that the lions, which had been declawed, needed the procedure because their teeth had been filed down and had become infected.