Sunday, December 17, 2017

Asiatic cheetahs on the brink of extinction with only 50 left alive

Robin McKie
Saturday 16 December 2017

Conservationists have warned that the Asiatic cheetah is on the threshold of extinction following a UN decision to pull funding from conservation efforts to protect it.

Fewer than 50 of the critically endangered carnivores are thought to be left in the wild – all of them in Iran – and scientists fear that without urgent intervention there is little chance of saving one of the planet’s most distinctive and graceful hunters.

“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” the Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh said. “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.”


Cheetahs – both African and Asian – are the fastest land animals on Earth, using their speed to bring down antelope, gazelle and other moderately large prey. Asiatic cheetahs were once widespread across the continent but were eradicated in India, where they were hunted for sport. The spread of farming also greatly reduced numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Eventually the animal was wiped out in all the nations of Asia to which it was once native – with the exception of a few areas of Iran. Conservationists have battled to keep numbers stable in these areas. They have faced severe problems, however.

“There have been all sorts of threats to the Asiatic cheetah,” said the conservation biologist Sam Williams of the University of Venda, in South Africa, who is an expert on large carnivores. “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.”


This point was endorsed by Breitenmoser. “We need to give as much support as we can to Iran. Every other country in which the Asiatic cheetah once roamed allowed it to disappear. Iran managed to save it – until now. So we need to get international agencies to get help to the country’s conservationists as soon as possible.

“The alternative is straightforward. Unless something is done within the next couple of years, it will not be possible to save the Asiatic cheetah. It is now five minutes to midnight for the species. Soon it will be midnight – and extinction.”


Compared with its Asiatic cousin, the African cheetah – the most widespread subspecies of cheetah - is in relatively good health. It still faces major problems, however.

It is reckoned that there are around 7,000 in the wild and, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its status is classified as “vulnerable”.

Many scientists and conservationists believe this categorisation is in fact incorrect and that the pressures placed on the animal mean its status should be rated as endangered.

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