WASHINGTON (AP) — Cheated out of a cheetah.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee brought a live cheetah to the Capitol on Monday, but news reporters and photographers were initially denied access to the big cat — the fastest land mammal in the world.
"This is a closed briefing," said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the committee's chairman. The panel, like others in Congress, "holds closed briefings for staff to learn about and discuss issues within our jurisdiction," Fritz said.
A few dozen Capitol Hill staffers entered the committee's meeting room in the Rayburn House Office Building while a half-dozen photographers stood outside the door, which was soon locked.
At the end of the hourlong briefing, the committee opened the doors. A cheetah named Adaeze (pronounced ah-DAY'-zah) was lying on a table. The big cat was born in captivity and lives at the Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.
The event was held in conjunction with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based group that works to save cheetahs from hunters, trappers and other threats. There are fewer than 10,000 wild cheetahs left worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, a 90 percent decrease since 1900.
Laurie Marker, the fund's executive director, said the briefing was intended to raise awareness of threats to the cheetah and build support for bills to increase penalties for wildlife trafficking and boost support for wildlife rangers. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., co-sponsored a Senate measure and attended Monday's briefing.
"People know about poaching of elephants and rhinos, but it happens with big cats, too," said Flake, who has met with Marker in Namibia. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday.
The House passed a Royce-sponsored bill last fall that aims to hold foreign governments accountable by "naming and shaming" the worst violators of anti-poaching laws.
Cheetahs are not the only wildlife under scrutiny in Congress this week. On Tuesday, the House is set to vote on a bill adopting the bison as the national mammal of the United States.