Asiatic cheetahs are facing the threat of being extinct, following the United Nations decision to discontinue funding its protectorship.
Conservationists believe that fewer than 50 of these 'big cats' remain in existence – all in Iran. The problem is compounded by the Iranian government cutting the budget of its department of the environment, which has responsibility for protecting the country’s threatened animals.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) swept in to absorb the Asiatic cheetah conservation project. But, Anne Marie Carlsen, UNDP deputy resident representative recently announced that Iran will be required to reassume conservatorship, since the organization would not be extending its support beyond Dec.
“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh said.
In 2014, the Iranian national football team brought attention to the cheetahs by adding images of the animal to their World Cup and Asian Cup kits. Also, August 31, 2017, was declared national Cheetah Day.
“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,” Parchizadeh added.
Asiatic cheetahs, which have a fawn-colored coat, black spots on its head and neck and distinctive black 'tear marks,' are slightly smaller and paler than its African cousin.
“There were three main protected areas in which we used to find cheetahs,” according to Urs Breitenmoser of the Cat Specialist Group.
“There are now none left in the western area, at Kavir, while in the southern region the animals are too thinly spread for enough to meet and breed. Only in the north, around Touran and Miandasht, are there any signs that there are enough cheetahs to maintain a population.”
The animals inhabited several Asian countries. In India, the cats were extinct as a result of being hunted for sport as well as farmers.
“There have been all sorts of threats to the Asiatic cheetah,” conservation biologist Sam Williams, of South Africa's University of Venda, said. “For example, they are hunted and killed by local herders – of sheep and goats – because cheetahs will occasionally kill and eat one of their animals.”
“Iran has faced heavy international economic sanctions since 1980, and international agencies have been encountering a lot of problems transferring money into the country for many years,” said Williams. “The crucial point is that that money could have been used for the implementation of conservation strategies.”
In a joint letter to Nature, Parchizadeh and Williams warned that without the UNDP’s support, there is little hope for the Asiatic cheetah.
“Management of the project will now fall mainly to Iran’s department of the environment, the head of which has declared the cheetah ‘doomed to extinction’ on the basis of its declining numbers since 2001. We urge Iran’s government not to give up on cheetah conservation,” the letter read.
Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE) has presented a $375,000 budget proposal to Budget and Planning Organization for Asiatic cheetah conservation plans.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on Earth.