Project to save endangered Asiatic cheetah gains steam
Cars, farmers and lack of food have contributed to the animal slowly dying out
Iranian environmentalists have mobilised 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 kilometres 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 km/h, once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal. Their numbers have stabilised in parts of southern Africa, but they have practically from northern 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 hunting.
Iran launched its protection project in 2001 with the support of the United Nations “when we realised Iran was the last country to have any Asiatic cheetahs”, said Hooman Jokar, who heads the programme.
It set up numbering a disappeared Africa network, now 92 specially trained park wardens, who cover a total of six million hectares in central and northern Iran. “Every day, we cover hundreds of kilometres to track wild animals in the park,” said warden Reza Shah Hosseini, 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 programme the cheetah would have totally disappeared from Iran,” said Jokar.
The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was devastating for wild animals.
A network of 92 specially trained park wardens cover a total of six million hectares to protect cheetahs in Iran.