GODE, Ethiopia -- US soldiers said they discovered two endangered cheetah cubs being held captive and abused in a restaurant in this dusty, remote Ethiopian village and have launched a campaign for the animals' rescue.
The 3-month-old cubs were reportedly being forced to fight one another for the amusement of patrons at a Gode restaurant. One cheetah was blind, possibly because poachers had kicked the animal in the face.
The soldiers, part of the US counterterrorism task force for the Horn of Africa, found the cubs last month. They provided medical treatment to the blinded cub, fed both animals, and tried to persuade restaurant owner Mohamed Hudle to give them to wildlife officials. The soldiers also contacted US-based cheetah specialists and Ethiopian authorities.
Befekadu Refera, an official at the national Environmental Protection Agency in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, confirmed that the US military had contacted his agency about the cubs and had offered to fly the pair to Addis Ababa, 684 miles away, for care. The US military declined to comment.
But the owner said he would not hand over the cubs unless he is paid $1,000 for each -- 10 times the average income in this impoverished nation. ''I don't see why I should hand them over," Hudle said Wednesday. ''When I was younger, I looked after goats and camels, so I know what animals need."
His sons, ages 4 and 2, pulled the cubs' tails and dragged them around by ropes tied tightly to their necks. Other children followed, poking and teasing the animals.
Hudle, 43, said he bought the cubs from poachers, who had kicked the female cub in the face, blinding the animal.
Cheetahs are considered endangered because of loss of habitat, poaching, and other factors, according to the international Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Deputy Wildlife Minister Ahmed Nisir has sent officials to try to secure the cheetahs' release. A government veterinarian was expected to visit today.