At least four cheetah cubs are smuggled out of Ethiopia every month, according to Ethiopia's Wildlife Conservation Authority (WCA).
WCA director Daniel Pawlos said locals were financially lured into capturing the cubs.
They are paid 10,000 to 15,000 Ethiopian birr ($310 to $466; £230 to £355) for each cub.
The cubs are first smuggled to Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, and then trafficked to Saudi Arabia and the UAE through Yemen, according to Mr Pawlos.
He said that the cubs were sold on the black market for more than $10,000 (£7,600) to rich people who want to keep them as exotic pets and as a status symbol.
Mr Pawlos added that cubs are also being smuggled and illegally traded.
"Last August, an Ethiopian man was arrested in Somaliland for trafficking a lion cub. We managed to get back the cub to Ethiopia and placed it in our rescue centre," said Mr Pawlos.
Last week, security forces in Saudi Arabia arrested a number of people accused of trying to smuggle cheetahs into the country.
Conservationists say many of the animals die en-route, and warn that the illegal trade is threatening to wipe out the cheetah populations in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia.