Iran moves to save last ‘mas­cot’ Asi­atic chee­tahs

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

Asi­atic chee­tah, is crit­i­cally en­dan­gered

GARM­SAR: Ira­nian en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have mo­bi­lized to pro­tect the world’s last Asi­atic chee­tahs, es­ti­mated to num­ber just 50 and faced with the threats of be­com­ing road­kill, a short­age of prey and farm­ers’ dogs. “The last time our photo traps caught a chee­tah here, it was two years ago. But we’re sure they are still in the re­gion,” said Ra­jab Ali Kar­gar, deputy head of the National Pro­tec­tion Project for the Asi­atic Chee­tah. His camp is just a stone’s throw from an old royal hunt­ing pav­il­ion in the Garm­sar area of Sem­nan prov­ince, around 120 kilo­me­ters south of Tehran, but th­ese days the fo­cus is on preser­va­tion rather than killing.

The world’s fastest land an­i­mal, ca­pa­ble of reach­ing speeds of 120 kilo­me­ters per hour, once stalked habi­tats from the east­ern reaches of In­dia to the At­lantic coast of Sene­gal. Their num­bers have sta­bi­lized in parts of south­ern Africa, but they have prac­ti­cally dis­ap­peared from north­ern Africa and Asia. The sub­species “Aci­nonyx ju­ba­tus ve­nati­cus”, com­monly known as the Asi­atic chee­tah, is crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature, mostly due to past hunt­ing.

Iran launched its pro­tec­tion project in 2001 with the support of the United Na­tions “when we re­al­ized Iran was the last coun­try to have any Asi­atic chee­tahs”, said Hooman Jokar, who heads the pro­gram. It set up a net­work, now num­ber­ing 92 spe­cially trained park war­dens, who cover a to­tal of six mil­lion hectares in cen­tral and north­ern Iran. “Ev­ery day, we cover hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters to track wild an­i­mals in the park,” said war­den Reza ShahHos­seini, as some 20 gazelles gal­loped past be­hind him. There were 20 sight­ings of the chee­tah in Sem­nan prov­ince last year. “Many think that with­out this pro­gram the chee­tah would have to­tally dis­ap­peared from Iran,” said Jokar.

Lack of prey

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was dev­as­tat­ing for wild an­i­mals, par­tic­u­larly along the coun­try’s western border. It was thought for a time that the chee­tahs had been wiped out, un­til they were found to have re­treated into the cen­tral desert re­gions. Three major prob­lems have be­fallen the Asi­atic chee­tah in re­cent time: cars, farm­ers and hav­ing noth­ing to eat. “When we launched the project, the big­gest dan­ger was the lack of prey,” said Jokar. The team fo­cused on build­ing up num­bers of gazelles and rab­bits for the chee­tahs to eat, which has been largely suc­cess­ful. Cars and farm­ers re­main a threat, how­ever. “To­day, the chee­tahs leave their zones and ap­proach vil­lages. Farm­ers and their dogs kill them to pro­tect their herds,” said Jokar. A pack of dogs can over­power a chee­tah, he said. At least 20 chee­tahs have been killed in road ac­ci­dents over the past 16 years. In its bid to raise pub­lic aware­ness, the project’s most suc­cess­ful move was putting an im­age of the chee­tah on the national foot­ball team’s jersey dur­ing the 2014 World Cup and the Asian Games in the same year. “That move had an ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect in ed­u­cat­ing and mo­bi­liz­ing peo­ple,” said Jokar. “Now nearly ev­ery­one knows the chee­tah is in dan­ger.”

Since early Septem­ber, a new cam­paign, headed by pop­u­lar ac­tress Hedieh Tehrani, has raised some eight bil­lion ri­als ($200,000, 170,000 eu­ros) in just over a month as part of ef­forts to re­lo­cate farms in or­der to re­duce con­fronta­tions with the chee­tah. “It’s the big­gest mo­bi­liza­tion of civil so­ci­ety that I’ve wit­nessed,” said Jokar.


TEHRAN: A fe­male Asi­atic Chee­tah named ‘Dal­bar’ snarls in an en­clo­sure at the Pardisan Park in Tehran.

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