The Quest to Save the World’s Second Rarest Cat
With fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs in Iran’s wilderness, the time is now to save this ecological and cultural wonder.
Iran‘s Asiatic cheetah’s alarming low numbers are pushing them closer to extinction. The Asiatic cheetah is one of the last two remaining critically endangered large cats in the country. The country has already lost the Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger to extinction.
The Three P‘s That are Killing Iran‘s Asiatic Cheetah
Cousin to the African cat, the Asiatic cheetah’s territory used to spread from the Red Sea to India. As reported in the Associated Press, in Iran, their numbers have dropped from an estimated 400 in the 1990s to 50-70 cheetahs today.
According to Panthera, an organization dedicated to wild cat conservation, there are three major threats to Iran’s Asiatic cheetahs:
1) Poaching: Even though this cheetah is a lot tamer than other carnivores, some shepherds believe that the cats are competition or are out to eat their livestock. Some of the cheetahs lose their lives to sheep dogs. Ironically, shepherds are given permission to graze their animal flocks in natural cheetah habitat, and the cats die.
Poaching has also fueled the exotic pet trade where cubs are taken and sold. As reported in The Guardian, the illegal pet trade is devastating cheetah populations across the globe. While traditional medicine used to account for most of the cheetah smuggling, today, exotic pets like cheetahs are feeding desires of power, status and wealth.
2) Prey: The Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s created a time of unregulated hunting of many of the Asiatic cheetah’s natural prey. While regulations were eventually set, the illegal overhunting of cheetah prey hasn’t stopped.
3) Place: The cats are losing their natural habitats to human development, grazing land for livestock and farmland. Natural occurrences like droughts are also hurting their numbers.
The cheetahs also have first-world problems. Like the endangered ocelots in the United States, Asiatic cheetahs are frequent victims of passing cars.
The UN Steps in
Iran can’t afford to lose another wild cat, and the United Nations has stepped in to help. The two-phase Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) was born out of this partnership.
Phase I: According to National Geographic, CACP appointed five areas that would act as cheetah safe-havens. From 2001 to 2008, the areas would also include cheetah guards with new materials to better defend the cats, e.g. vehicles and motorbikes.
CACP also promoted the cultural significance of the wild cat to the masses through educational initiatives. Before CACP, most Iranians weren’t aware that there were cheetahs in their country or that they were the wild cats’ main custodians.
Phase II: Phase II was launched in the summer of 2010 and it is expected to end in December 2016. The second wave of CACP is working towards creating better management of the protected areas by creating financial sustainability and filling in those financial gaps. Another goal is to get the local private sector involved in promoting conservation and creating environmentally-friendly opportunities for locals in protected areas to reduce poverty and sustain their livelihoods.
CACP seems to be on the right track. A few of the successes include: implementing better grazing laws, obtaining land and water rights in cheetah protected areas, increasing cheetah research and promoting the cats to the public, e.g. Cheetah Day.
Reasons to Save the Asiatic Cheetah
With numbers so low, it’s really a no-brainer as to why Iran and the world should step in to save the Asiatic cheetah.
Besides being the right thing to do, the Asiatic cheetah can also fuel ecotourism and create an additional revenue stream in the country. As Nature World News reports, the endangered status of the cats could lure more tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the rare cat.
Saving the Asiatic cheetah is also an internal matter of cultural solidarity. The Asiatic cheetah used to be reserved for Iranian royalty. Emperors and kings used them to hunt gazelles. Today, sport royalty recalls the spirit of the endangered wild cat when Iranian soccer players sported the cheetah on their 2014 World Cup jerseys.
The Asiatic cheetah shouldn’t be reserved for a select few. Iran and the world should get to enjoy the wild cats for a long time. Let’s hope that conservation efforts pay off.
Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar