Cheetahs in Iran!

Asiatic Cheetah in the Bafgh Protected Area of Yazd Province in Iran.
(Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society)

    Once distributed from the Indian subcontinent across Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and Syria, the Asiatic cheetah is now on the verge of extinction and one of the most endangered members of the cat family in the world.

    The population of cheetahs in Iran is thought to be about 50-60, restricted to the main desert areas around Dasht-e-Kavir.

    Before World War II, the cheetah numbered around 400, ranging in almost all of the steppes and desert areas of the east of the country and a few habitats near the Iraqi border. The war marked the widespread slaughter of their essential prey species, the gazelle, resulting in a devastating decline in the cheetah population.

    The last cheetahs in India were shot in 1947. Since then, the Asiatic cheetah has disappeared from most of its former range. In the last 20 years Iran has been the final stronghold for the Asiatic cheetah, known in Iran as yuz, although there have been occasional reports of cheetahs in Pakistan.

    In 1956, the gazelle was protected by law and the cheetah followed in 1959. The gazelle and cheetah population recovered in many areas. Cheetah sightings increased in different localities and by the late 1970s cheetah numbers were estimated to be 200-300.

    The 1979 revolution interrupted wildlife conservation for a few years, and many areas were occupied by armed 4WD vehicles and motorbikes that chased desert species, such as gazelles, onager and the cheetah. As gazelle populations declined, the cheetahs moved toward the foothills and mountainous habitats to find new food sources such as wild sheep and goats, and to avoid human predation.

    With their retreat they disappeared from much of their former range and were limited to a few remote areas with a reliable prey population and relative safety from humans

    Iranian Cheetah (Photo: Kavi)

    The Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS), an Iranian, non-profit NGO established in Aug 2001, works to save the last Iranian cheetahs. The society was founded by three young enthusiastic students of natural resources. With their five years experience in studying the cheetah before its official establishment, ICS has made remarkable progress in its activities to save the cheetah in Iran in the past two years. ICS is based in Tehran and has 300 members from all over the country.