The Asiatic cheetah is doomed to extinction unless immediate action is taken, conservationists warn.
There are fewer than 50 of these slender felines left in the wild, all of which are in Iran, and they are quickly spiraling towards extinction, according to conservationists speaking to The Observer. The numbers of these brilliant beasts have been waning for years, however it’s now feared that UN conservation budget cuts and an international bank embargo against Iran could be the final nail in the coffin.
“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh told The Observer. “Iran has already suffered from the loss of the Asiatic lion and the Caspian tiger. Now we are about to see the Asiatic cheetah go extinct as well.”
The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), sometimes called the Iranian cheetah, separated from the African cheetah subspecies between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago. Although once found throughout the Arabian peninsula, the Near East, India, and Pakistan, there are now only a few fragmented populations clawing on for life in Iran. They are similar animals, especially in terms of their speed, although the Asiatic cheetah is smaller and paler.
The subspecies has been classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List for over 20 years. The story of their demise is the same old tale of overhunting, habitat loss, and lack of prey. Fall out from the Iranian Revolution in 1979, followed by the Iran-Iraq war throughout the 1980s, meant that less priority was given to conservation efforts.
The latest study on the health of the species by the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) published last month was quickly followed by an urgent pledge to policy-makers to act on the “critical status” of the Asiatic cheetah, the ICS said on their crowdfunding page. “With respect to international bank embargo against Iran, we are facing serious problems for fundraising which might affect adversely our activities to save the wildlife in Iran.”
Conservation efforts have been heating up over the past year, even though international sanctions continue to make projects all the more difficult. In 2014, the Iranian national soccer team kit featured the image of an Asiatic cheetah in order to bring attention to conservation efforts. The following year, Meraj Airlines held a similar campaign by applying graphics of the cheetah to the nose of their planes. There's also been a handful of semi-captive breeding programs and proposals to reintroduce them back into India.
However, unless serious action is taken soon, all of this could have been in vain.