Iran Seeks to Save Rare Cheetahs
TEHRAN, India Two groups of rare Asiatic cheetahs were spotted in central Iran during recent months, raising hopes that one of the world's fastest moving creatures could be saved from extinction, a conservation official said Saturday.
Iranian wildlife scientists saw four adult cheetahs in August, two months after camera traps revealed a female cheetah with her four cubs resting under the shade of a tree, said Houshang Ziaei, an official of the Environment Protection Organization of Iran.
Once ranging from the Red Sea to India, the Asiatic cheetah today are hanging on by only the thinnest of threads. Fewer than 60 exist on the entire Asian continent, mostly on Iran's arid central plateau.
Fewer than 10,000 cheetahs are also believed to be still living in Africa, where protection is questionable and habitat is vanishing.
"The two discoveries of cheetahs are very encouraging," said Ziaei, who is in charge of a project seeking to protect Asiatic cheetahs in Iran, which is being run in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The two groups of cheetahs are the largest-known of these rare cats ever photographed in Asia, said Ziaei.
Once known as "hunting leopards," cheetahs have played a significant role in Iranian history, being trained by ancient emperors to hunt gazelles.
In the 1970s, estimates of the number of cheetahs in Iran ranged from 100 to 400, but widespread poaching of cheetahs and their prey during the early years of the 1979 Islamic revolution, along with degradation of habitat due to livestock grazing, have pushed the predator to the brink of extinction.
Asiatic cheetahs became extinct throughout much of the Middle East about 100 years ago, although they were spotted in Saudi Arabia until the 1950s. They vanished in India in 1947, while spotty records claim they ranged in Central Asia as far as Kazakhstan from the 1960s through 1980s.
Source: Associated Press