0630 GMT January 20, 2019
Asiatic cheetah, with scientific name of Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, is a sup-species of cheetah which is on verge of extinction.
Currently, only dozens of cheetahs remain in the country.
Department of the Environment (DoE) experts have estimated that less than 60 cheetahs exist in Iran.
Phase III of monitoring the population of Asiatic cheetahs has been underway since mid-March 2016.
Managing Director of Iranian Cheetah Society Morteza Eslami-Dehkordi described continued survival of Iranian cheetah as very weak.
Iran Daily interviewed Eslami-Dehkordi to learn more about plans to safeguard this endangered species. Excerpts follow:
IRAN DAILY: Please tell us about the activities of Iranian Cheetah Society.
MORTEZA ESLAMI-DEHKORDI: Iranian Cheetah Society is a non-governmental organization which was established in 2001 to impart training to those living near protected regions as well as to conduct research on Asiatic cheetah and other Carnivorous species.
The society’s headquarters is in Tehran but it holds training courses and conducts research in villages and protected regions in half of the country’s provinces.
Currently, it has 1,200 volunteer members and 30 main members.
Is this species called Asiatic cheetah or Iranian cheetah?
This species is called as Asiatic cheetah. However, since its population has been extinct in other parts of Asia except Iran, the name of ‘Iranian cheetah’ is also used.
Iranian Cheetah has been registered on the red list of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The name of Iranian Cheetah motivates people more to help protect this rare species.
Why has Asiatic cheetah become extinct in other parts of Asia?
Asiatic cheetah used to exist in western Asia and some parts of Central Asia as well as in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and India, but it gradually became extinct.
Iran has been the sole habitat of Asiatic Cheetah for the last 40 years.
It seems that unbridled hunting of cheetah and destruction of its habitats are the main reasons for the extinction of this rare species.
Cheetah is a very vulnerable animal with meager defense power and can easily be hunted by humans or animals bigger than itself. It even fears humans and sheep dogs.
Although it is a fast animal with flexible spine, increased lung capacity, wide nostrils, thin muscular corpus and small head, it is vulnerable to attacks by humans and other animals.
On the other hand, cheetah has special manners for defending and reproducing which makes its survival different.
Cheetah population suddenly began to decline four million years ago leading to lower gene variation. Also, it’s fertility rate is low.
All of these have driven Asiatic cheetah into extinction.
What is the difference between Iranian cheetah and African cheetah?
They differ in genetics. Cheetahs have three separate genetic branches in northern Africa, southern Africa and Iran. Iranian species of cheetah has totally a different genetic expression.
On the other hand, Iranian cheetahs have longer hairs and thicker furs.
Iranian cheetah is smaller and lighter with weights ranging between 20 and 40 kilograms, while African cheetah weighs more.
Where are habitats for cheetah located in Iran?
At present, cheetah exists on the outskirts of Central Desert of Iran in seven provinces of North Khorasan, Khorasan Razavi, South Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Kerman and Isfahan.
Currently sections of villages and habitats of this animal have been designated as protected areas.
However, cheetahs are scattered across a wide region. They move and run a long distance such as 130km, 160km and even 210km.
What is the population trend of Iranian cheetah population in recent years?
The easiest and most applicable method for monitoring the cheetah population is to install cameras and take photos. As you know, the skin design differs in cheetahs. Therefore, the number of cheetahs can be assessed by looking at the photos.
Between 30 and 50 cameras have been installed in every region.
According to assessment conducted in 2009, cheetah population was estimated between 70 and 120. But, based on monitoring conducted by Asiatic Cheetah Society and DoE during 2011-2013, the population was estimated at between 40 and 70.
Cheetah population is monitored every two years. The third round of monitoring cheetahs has been underway since mid-March 2016 and will continue until March 2017. But, preliminary reports from cheetah population by recording their photos, is denotes a cause for anxiety.
What is your opinion about the declining cheetah population over the past three years?
Poaching and road accidents are the major causes for the falling cheetah population. A female cheetah was killed in an accident in the north of Touran National Park, Semnan Province. It had three cubs.
Basically, death of one cheetah ― accounting for two percent of the entire population (50) ― in species which with low population is a big disaster particularly since the perished animal had successfully reproduced.
Carnivores cannot be raised in cage because they learn hunting and how to find secure habitats and water resources from their mother.
How can we prevent the reduction of Iranian cheetah population and its extinction?
Any minor factor can lead to extinction of cheetah. If the protection plans of Iranian cheetah were not implemented in 2001, it would have become extinct within three or four years.
However, there is still hope for protecting Iranian cheetahs.
Given the steps to support Iranian cheetah, airing TV programs, publishing news regarding these animal and printing the image of Iranian cheetah on the apparel of the national football team of Iran, this rare species has gained more importance among people.
Also publicity on Iranian cheetah has drawn public attention.
Currently, we notice that any violence against cheetah will entail public reaction.
Even in some cases, mining and road construction in protected regions has been suspended due to public outcry.