Asiatic Cheetah

Asiatic Cheetah

name = Asiatic CheetahMSW3 Wozencraft | pages = 533]
status = CR
trend = down
status_system = iucn3.1
status_ref = IUCN2006|assessors=Cat Specialist Group|year=1996|id=220|title=Acinonyx jubatus ventaticus|downloaded=11 September 2006 Database entry includes justification for why this species is critically endangered.]

image_caption =Portrait of an Asiatic Cheetah at India
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
familia = Felidae
genus = "Acinonyx"
species = "A. jubatus"
subspecies = "A. j. venaticus"
trinomial = "Acinonyx jubatus venaticus"
trinomial_authority = (Griffith, 1821)

The Asiatic Cheetah ("cheetah" from Hindi चीता cītā, derived from Sanskrit word "chitraka" meaning "speckled") ("Acinonyx jubatus venaticus") is now also known as the Iranian Cheetah and although recently extinct in India it is also known as the Indian Cheetah.

Asiatic Cheetah is a rare critically endangered subspecies of the Cheetah found today only in Iran, it lives in it's vast central desert in fragmented pieces of remaining suitable habitat. In recent times in the last century this once numerous and common animal was driven to extinction elsewhere in its entire former range in Southwest Asia from Arabia to India including Afghanistan, latest research shows that only 70 to 100 Asiatic Cheetahs are estimated to remain, all of them in Iran. This is the result of continuous field surveys, all of which have been verified by the results of more than 12,000 nights of camera trapping inside it's fragmented Iranian desert habitats during the past 10 years. [ [ Iranian Cheetah Society] ] The Asiatic Cheetah and the Persian Leopard are the only remaining species of large cats in Iran today [ [ United Nation Development Program UNDP] ] with the once common Caspian tiger and Asiatic lion having already been driven to extinction in the last century, however in the case of Asiatic lions the world's last few continue to exist in India.

Anatomy and morphology

The Cheetah is “the fastest land animal in the world”. [Milton, H. 1959. Motions of cheetah and horse. Journal of Mammalogy] The head and body of the adult Asiatic Cheetah measure from 112 to 135 cm with a tail length between 66 and 84 cm. It can weigh from 34 to 54 kg, but the male is slightly larger than the female.

Ecology and life history


Cheetahs thrive in open lands, small plains, semi-desert areas and other open habitats where prey is available. The Asiatic Cheetah is found in the Kavir desert region of Iran, which includes parts of the Kerman, Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Tehran and Markazi provinces. The Asiatic Cheetah also seems to survive in the dry open Balochistan province of Pakistan where adequate prey is available. The cheetah's habitat is under threat from desertification, increasing agriculture, residential settlements and declining prey — caused by hunting and degradation in pastures by overgrazing from introduced livestock. [ [ Conservation of Asiatic cheetah project (CACP)] - Frequently offline] Females, unlike males, do not establish a territory, which means they “travel” within their habitats. This is an important attribute to consider in conservation.

Feeding ecology

The Asiatic Cheetah preys on small antelopes.

In Iran Asiatic Cheetah's diet consists mainly of Jebeer Gazelle (also called Chinkara), Goitered Gazelle, wild sheep, wild goat, and cape hare. The Asiatic cheetah’s range is restricted to the Central Iranian Plateau. The main threat to the species is loss of their primary prey species, Jebeer gazelle, goitered gazelle, urial sheep and wild goat, due to poaching and grazing competition with domestic livestock. Habitat loss from mining development and poaching of Asiatic Cheetahs also threaten their populations in Iran. "Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)" and the "Department of Enavironment , Iran (DoE)" have started a collaring project for Asiatic Cheetahs in the fall of 2006. [ [ Studies of the Asiatic Cheetah in Iran, WCS – Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA; Accessed on 03 July 2008] ] [ [ Iran Cheetah Project, WCS – Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA; Accessed on 03 July 2008] ]

In India fifty years ago, prey was abundant, and it fed on the Blackbuck, the Chinkara and sometimes the Chital and the Nilgai.

quote| in low, isolated, rocky hills, near the plains on which live antelopes, its principal prey. It also kills gazelles, nilgai, and, doubtless, occasionally deer and other animals. Instances also occur of sheep and goats being carried off by it, but it rarely molests domestic animals, and has not been known to attack men. Its mode of capturing its prey is to stalk up to within a moderate distance of between one to two hundred yards, taking advantage of inequalities of the ground, bushes, or other cover, and then to make a rush. Its speed for a short distance is remarkable far exceeding that of any other beast of prey, even of a greyhound or kangaroo-hound, for no dog can at first overtake an Indian antelope or a gazelle, either of which is quickly run down by "C. jubatus", if the start does not exceed about two hundred yards. General McMaster saw a very fine hunting-leopard catch a black buck that had about that start within four hundred yards. It is probable that for a short distance the hunting-leopard is the swiftest of all mammals.|Blanford writing on the Asiatic Cheetah in India quoted by Lydekker [Lydekker, R. A. 1893-94. The Royal Natural History. Volume 1]

Evolutionary history

The Asiatic Cheetah once ranged from Arabia to India, through Iran, central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iran and the Indian subcontinent, it was particularly numerous. Cheetahs are the only big cat that can be tamed and trained to hunt gazelle. The Mughal Emperor of India, Akbar, was said to have had 1,000 cheetahs at one time, something depicted in many Persian and Indian miniature paintings. The numerous constraints regarding the Cheetah’s conservation contribute to its general susceptibility and its very complex conservation: "e.g.", its low fertility rate, the high mortality rate of the cubs due to genetic factors and the fact that females are the ones who select mates, have been reasons why captive breeding has had such a poor record. A Cheetah-specific issue is its gene pool. Scientists are aware of the fact that all the Cheetahs in the world have a very similar immune system which means that they all have the same vulnerability to the same diseases; this is due to an interbreeding – approximately 12,000 years ago – that influenced the Cheetah’s gene pool dramatically. The Cheetah will not be a “robust, vigorous species anytime in the foreseeable future" [Gugliotta, G. 2008. Rare breed. Smithsonian 38(12):38]

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the species was already heading for extinction in many areas. The last physical evidence of the Asiatic Cheetah in India was three shot by the Maharajah of Surguja in 1947 in eastern Madhya Pradesh. By 1990, the Asiatic Cheetah appeared to survive only in Iran. Estimated to number more than 200 during the 1970s, more recently Iranian biologist Hormoz Asadi estimated that the number of Asiatic Cheetahs left to be between 50 and 100 and figures for 2005-2006 are between 50 and 60 in the wild. Most of these 60 Asiatic Cheetahs live in Iran on the Kavir desert. A remnant population inhabits the dry terrain covering the border of Iran and Pakistan. In the areas in which the cheetah lives locals say they have not seen it for more than fifteen years. [ [ Asiatic cheetah on] ]


Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, wildlife conservation was given a lower priorityFact|date=May 2007; the Asiatic Cheetah and its principal prey, gazelles, were hunted, resulting in a rapid decline. As a result, the Asiatic Cheetah is now listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Some surveys by Asadi in the latter half of 1997 show that urgent action is required to rehabilitate wildlife populations, especially gazelles and their habitat if the Asiatic Cheetah is to survive.


Land-use change has been a major factor in Cheetah’s ecosystem: persecution, habitat degradation and fragmentation, desertification and direct killing of wildlife that the cheetah preys upon, particularly game animals and off-take for commercial uses through poaching [ [ UNDP 2008 Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah] ] are all factors responsible for the chronic decline of the cheetah in Iran. According to the Iranian Department of Environment this degradation has occurred especially between 1988 and 1991.

The Asiatic Cheetah exists in very low numbers, divided into widely separated populations. Its low density makes it more likely to be affected by a lack of prey through livestock overgrazing and antelope hunting, coupled with direct persecution from humans. While protected areas comprise a key component of the cheetah's habitat, management needs to be improved.

Widespread hunting of this animal and its prey species along with conversion of its grassland habitat to farmland has wiped it out completely from its entire range in southwest Asia and India. Critically endangered with extinction now the world's last less than hundred Asiatic cheetahs survive only in the central desert of Iran

Coal, Opium, and the Cheetah: Coal, Copper and Iron are the three important goods that have been won in Cheetah’s habitat in three different regions in central and eastern Iran. It is estimated that the two regions for Coal (Nayband) and Iron (Bafq) have the largest Cheetah population outside the protected areas. Mining itself is not a direct threat to Cheetahs; road construction and the resulting traffic has made Cheetah accessible for humans – including poachers.The Iranian border regions to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Baluchistan province) have been, and still are, major passages for armed outlaws and Opium smugglers who distribute their “good” in central and western regions in Iran; they must pass Cheetah habitat. The region suffers from uncontrolled hunting throughout the desert and the governments of the three countries cannot establish a fundamental change. According to Asadi this has been the situation in 1997. There is no reliable information regarding the present situation in this region. [Asadi, H. 1997. The environmental limitations and future of the Asiatic cheetah in Iran. ]

Conservation efforts

Iran's Department of the Environment, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have launched the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) designed to preserve and rehabilitate the remaining areas of cheetah habitat left in Iran. [ [ Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project] - IUCN]

Training Course for Herders: It is estimated that 10 Cheetahs live in the Bafq Protected Area. According to the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) herders are considered as a significant target group which generally confuses the cheetah with other similar-sized carnivores, including wolf, leopard, striped hyena and even caracal and wild cat. On the basis of results of conflict assessment, a specific Herders Training Course was developed in 2007, in which they learned how to identify the cheetah as well as other carnivores, since these were the main causes for livestock kills. These courses were a result of cooperation between UNDP/GEF, Iran’s Department of Environment, ICS, and the councils of five main villages in this region.

Cheetah Friends: Another incentive in the region is the formation of young core groups of Cheetah friends, who after a short instructive course, are able to educate people and organize Cheetah events and become an informational instance in Cheetah matters for a number of villages. It is encouraging that young people have been showing a great amount of interest for this issue; not only for Cheetah, but for wildlife conservation in general.

India, where the Asiatic Cheetah is now extinct, is interested in cloning the cheetah to reintroduce it to the country, [ [ Pros and Cons of inbreeding] - See footnotes on page] and it was claimed that Iran - the donor country - was willing to participate in the project. [ [ [Wildlife-India] News: Cheetah cloning project gets a boost] ] Later on, however, Iran refused to send a male and female cheetah or to allow experts to collect tissue samples from a cheetah kept in a zoo there. [ [ Mullas' regime says "No" to cloning of cheetah] ]


External links

* [ Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS)] - A non-profit organisation set up to save the Asiatic cheetah.
* [ The Asiatic or Iranian Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)] - by: Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa (in German).
* []
* [ Iran Department of Environment]

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