The Asiatic cheetah once had a distribution that extended across the Middle East, Central Asia, north into southern Kazakhstan and southeast into India. Today, the cheetah has been extirpated from its entire Asiatic range, except for a small and critically endangered population in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Estimated at 200 animals in the 1970’s, there are now thought to be only 70-110 Asiatic cheetahs left in the wild, all occupying the arid, central plateau of Iran.
The major threats facing the Asiatic cheetah include:
- Overhunting of cheetah prey. At the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1978/1979, all regulations protecting cheetah ranges and animals living within these areas were disbanded. Unregulated hunting of cheetahs’ natural prey during this period drastically decreased cheetah numbers. Although hunting is now regulated, illegal poaching of cheetah prey continues to this day.
- Habitat degradation. Overgrazing and severe droughts resulting from natural and human-induced changes have reduced the habitat available to wild antelope species and to cheetahs. Also, in Iran, herders and their livestock are legally permitted access to most protected areas and some agriculture is permitted in protected areas, placing the cheetah and its prey in direct competition with people.
- Direct poaching. Herders hunt cheetahs for the perceived or real threats they pose to livestock, although cheetahs are known to create fewer problems for livestock owners than many other large carnivores. Occasionally poachers illegally capture cheetah cubs to be sold as pets.
The Iranian government considers the cheetah an important part of its natural and cultural heritage. In order to ensure the future of the Asiatic cheetah, Iran’s Department of the Environment (DOE) partnered with Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the United Nations Development Programme to create a comprehensive conservation program called the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah, Its Natural Habitat, and Associated Biota in the I.R. of Iran (CACP).
Through the CACP, Panthera and its partners set out to protect the last remaining Iranian cheetahs, their prey base and the natural habitats of these species by achieving the following objectives:
- Mitigate the direct threats facing cheetahs and their prey
- Gather ecological data on existing cheetah, other carnivore and prey populations
- Enhance and empower law enforcement officials to protect cheetahs and their prey, including seeking a reduction in the number of annual gun licenses issued in cheetah range
- Research the ecology of cheetahs, other predators and their prey using camera traps and radio-collars
- Study cheetah rangelands to determine the extent of competition for land between livestock and the cheetah’s wild ungulate prey
- Establish environmental educational activities with local communities to improve attitudes towards cheetahs
- Engage with local communities, conservation organizations and government officials to collaboratively protect cheetah habitat.
Panthera on the Ground
Since so few Asiatic cheetahs exist in the wild, little is known about their movement patterns, habitat preferences, feeding ecology and reproductive biology. Collecting these data is critical to effectively develop and implement a conservation strategy for Asiatic cheetahs.
With our partners, Panthera affixed the first-ever radio collars to Asiatic cheetahs in Iran, within the Bafgh Protected Area. Currently, Panthera is working with our CACP partners to expand the radio telemetry effort to better understand the ecological requirements of the Asiatic cheetah so they can be better protected.
In addition to cheetahs, the CACP has also collared Persian leopards and is working to capture other carnivores to better understand competition for prey and land between cheetahs and the predators with which they coexist.
Very little formal scientific research has been conducted on the Asiatic cheetah, which is why Panthera is working closely with a number of national and international partners, including Iran’s Department of the Environment, to gather data on the cheetah’s use of habitat range, movement patterns, ecology and biology using camera trap images such as this.
Click here to: Meet the Cheetah
Read Panthera President, Dr. Luke Hunter's, "Finding the Last Cheetahs in Iran" featured in National Geographic, October 2012.
|Iranian Cheetah Project | A Species Under Threat|