0910 GMT July 06, 2022
The present state of the Iranian cheetah is not promising at all, said a member of the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS).
Morteza Eslami added that the Iranian cheetah is in a pre-extinction phase, noting that there has been severe decline in the number of Iranian cheetahs in protected areas.
He underlined that without the protective measures taken so far, the Asiatic cheetah would have faced extinction a long time ago.
Asiatic cheetah, also known as Iranian cheetah is among the world’s rare and imperiled animal species whose extinction countdown has begun.
The Central Iranian Plateau is currently the habitat where the few remaining Asiatic cheetahs are taking their last breaths. In the absence of an effective solution, like Iranian lion and Mazandaran— northern Iranian province — tiger, the Asiatic cheetah will be soon doomed to extinction, leaving us and the future generation ruing.
Experts, however, still maintain that there is a faint possibility that this fleet-footed and slender feline can survive extinction. However, this probability is not strong enough to let Iranian officials sit idle and be content with what they have done so far to save the Asiatic cheetah from extinction and revive the species.
Preventing Iranian shepherds from grazing their cattle in the Iranian cheetahs’ territory is the only solution left for us to be able to see the world’s fastest runner dashing Iranian open and vast plains in the future. In fact, grazing cattle in the Iranian cheetah’s domain has always led to the victimization of the feline in different ways.
Moving the cattle from the Asiatic cheetahs’ habitat, however, is not a simple task and calls for a multibillion-dollar budget for purchasing the territories where the Iranian cheetah lives and prohibiting grazing cattle in them.
Speaking to Iran Daily, Eslami elaborated on the present condition of the Iranian cheetah and ways to save it from extinction.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: Would you please expound on the latest condition of the Iranian cheetah?
MORTEZA ESLAMI: At present, there are two reproduction habitats for the Asiatic cheetah in Iran. One is located in Khar Turan National Park, spanning parts of the northern Iranian province of Semnan in Shahroud, and the other in Miandasht Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern Iranian province of North Khorasan. Of course, there are other habitats for the Iranian cheetah in the country. However, since a long time ago, no reproduction instance has been registered in any of these habitats.
Once, the central Iranian province of Yazd was home to the largest number of Iranian cheetahs. However, since several years ago, no case of reproduction has been registered in any of these habitats either. According to field studies, no female cheetah has been seen in these areas since the year to March 2012, increasing the probability that there is no female cheetah in these regions.
There are, however, two male cheetahs in these districts, which are definitely incapable of reproduction. It is likely that there is a female cheetah in these regions which has either not been seen by our park rangers or filmed or caught by our cameras.
The population density of the Iranian cheetah has declined to the extent that the cameras we have positioned at different points manage to capture them only once in a blue moon. It is almost impossible to precisely determine their number. However, our estimates show that the number of the Asiatic cheetah in Iran currently stands at 40.
The Iranian cheetah is in a pre-extinction phase. In this stage, due to being divided from larger population groups to smaller ones, animals usually do not have biocommunication with each other. In such circumstances usually, a limited population of the animal accidentally settles at a certain point. Later, due to diverse reasons, a male animal or female member of the group dies which leads to the extinction of the rest of the members.
Is it possible to transfer male or female cheetahs to protected areas where other members of the species live?
Due to the severe decline in the population of the Iranian cheetah in protected areas, transferring a cheetah from one point to another entails grave risks.
How about first, breeding cheetah cubs in captivity (captive breeding) and then releasing them into their natural habitats?
At present, a male cheetah named ‘Koushki’ and two female ones, called ‘Delbar’ and ‘Iran’, are being kept in captivity in a park in Iran. Breeding cheetahs in captivity and then releasing them in their natural environment is a difficult process biologically given the species’ physical structure and reproduction style and condition. Nevertheless, Iran is currently the only habitat in the world for the Asiatic cheetah. There are only less than 40 cheetahs remaining in the country. We are required to try different reproduction methods and techniques. In case the remaining cheetahs in Iran die, this would mean that the species will face global extinction.
To preserve the genetic resources of the Iranian cheetah we are definitely required to follow the captive breeding plan.
About two years ago, a cheetah conceived naturally in captivity. However, the cheetah died shortly after the embryo was produced. At present, the problem is that our male cheetah is getting old. To breed cheetah cubs in captivity we are required to use laboratory methods as a last resort, which is not easy. To this end the Iranian Department of Environment (DoE) intends to cooperate with foreign experts.
What is the difference between the Iranian and South African cheetahs?
Their physical aspects are not much different except that the Iranian species is physically smaller. Given that the Iranian cheetah experiences colder winters, compared to the South African peers, its body is covered with longer hair, particularly during cold seasons.
However, genetically the two species are totally different from each other.
What measures have so far been taken to preserve and revive the Iranian cheetah?
Given the importance of the issue, the DoE, in cooperation with the United Nations, began implementing a joint project to protect the Asiatic cheetah in 2001. At first, the project was carried out in a four-year term. Following that, it was extended for several two-year terms. The last term of the project ended in the year to March 2018. We are preparing the ground for resuming the implementation of the project for another term.
The budget allocated so far for this purpose has been used for employing park rangers, purchasing research and protection equipment and making watering trough for cheetahs.
How much time do we have before the last Iranian cheetah is dies out?
We will not have much time if the present trend continues. However, any protective measure taken now will procrastinate the Iranian cheetah’s extinction in the future. We should continue with our protective measures to constantly postpone the extinction of this species until the risk is eliminated. In the absence of such measures, the Asiatic cheetah would have faced extinction a long time ago. Nevertheless, the present situation is not promising at all.
What else can be done to save the Iranian cheetah from extinction?
Grazing cattle in the habitat of the species has been the most important cause of its mortality as cheetahs have been killed by shepherds and shepherd dogs. Cheetahs have also died due to being hit by cars, which is again due to the presence of the cattle in their habitat.
In case cattle grazing is not prohibited in the Iranian cheetah’s habitat immediately, we will definitely have zero chance of preserving the species. This, however, is a herculean task as it is very costly.