Living on the edge: Asiatic cheetah in Iran

TEHRAN, Mar. 28 (MNA) – Mohammad Farhadinia, a wildlife biologist, has said thanks to conservation agencies’ attempts, the Asiatic cheetah has received a high level of social support. It gives hope and dedication, both to government and civil society in their battle to save the rarest cat in the world.

He stressed that the cheetah project established an innovative insurance program to compensate people’s occasional livestock loss to the cheetahs. "Iran must be proud of its cheetah project which against all odds, has been a platform to benchmark the modern nature conservation in Iran and perhaps beyond across the volatile Middle East," he noted in an interview with Mehr News correspondent Lachin Rezaian:

What is the current situation of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran?

Until recently, Asiatic cheetahs used to occur in three regions, or if we consider them as sub-populations. The first one is near Tehran. Sadly, we do not have any evidence of cheetah presence there since 2013. The second one, which is called the Southern, covers several of promising cheetah reserves. But to our surprise, no cheetah female, and consequently no evidence of breeding has been detected since 2011 there. Currently, we are aware of 4 adult males, some aged 10 years, wandering the Southern region. Finally, there is a “Northern” region. This is the only region where we have evidence of cheetah breeding, for example three different families were spotted during 2017. We are optimist that there may be more cheetahs in these areas as well as other landscapes where have not been explored.

How do you evaluate conservation actions for cheetahs in Iran?

Iran coordinates its governmental conservation work through a cheetah project. Recently, one of the cheetah project’s advisors evaluated it to have achieved to 63% of committed activities. The way cheetah conservation evolved in Iran was astonishing, from an animal quite unknown for public to the only animal present on a national soccer’s jersey in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, facilitated by the cheetah project. The cheetah inspired many young conservationists to build their career in saving animals, making Iran as the most productive country across the Middle East in terms of published papers in biodiversity conservation peer-reviewed journals. Iranian government remained highly committed to save the cheetahs, for example launching many development plans were stopped within cheetah areas and 125 rangers are hired to protect the cheetahs and their prey. The cheetah project established an innovative insurance program, to compensate people’s occasional livestock loss to the cheetahs. Iran must be proud of its cheetah project which against all odds, has been a platform to benchmark the modern nature conservation in Iran and perhaps beyond across the volatile Middle East.

Although we must be proud of achievements in terms of activities, we should not forget our goal which is securing a viable population of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran. As long as the cheetahs are still away from the viability, there is no question on extending or discontinuing the cheetah project based on its failure and success. The cheetah is, and will be, a conservation-dependent animal.

I recently learned that a news translated and summarized by Mehr News Agency from one of my detailed articles about cheetah conservation in Iran created disappointment among some conservationists, after titling “Cheetah project failed”. That was neither the title nor the conclusion I meant from the original article which was originally titled as “Low genetic diversity a big threat to Asiatic cheetahs”, aiming to encourage revising our protection activities. Engaged experts may find that article useful in order to revise nearly two decades of cheetah conservation for concluding a better strategic plan for future.

What is the solution if we want the Asiatic cheetahs to survive?

There seems to be a dichotomy in the current cheetah conservation in Iran. In one hand, some scholars believe that “threat mitigation” is still the major solution for cheetahs, implying that mitigating the threats and improving habitat and prey would allow stabilizing and increasing the local cheetah abundance.

In contrast, some biologists believe that in addition to the ongoing threat mitigation efforts which must be enhanced, a new level of interventions is needed as part of the solution, notably through captive breeding. Recently, Iranian Department of Environment declared that Iran will pursue the second approach, launching a captive breeding program along with ongoing protection efforts and threat mitigation. I am not aware of the stage of planning or implementation.

Do you consider any chance for cheetahs to survive?

Speaking realistically, there is still some chance, but it is tiny and fragile. When a population is limited to several individuals, particularly in the case of Asiatic cheetahs which each individual might be hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest cheetah, it is difficult to predict the future and to control complex factors affecting each of them. A road collision with a female from an area can ruin breeding of cheetahs in a big reserve, or curious herd dogs chasing after a cheetah cub can destroy the breeding outcome of a female in a matter of minutes. This is why we need to be open to wide range of solutions, but certainly not to give up, as long as the last cheetah is wandering parts of the Iran’s vast barren deserts.

Interview by: Lachin Rezaian

News Code 133031


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