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Asiatic cheetahs are desperately racing toward extinction

In Iran sopravvivono appena cento esemplari di ghepardo asiatico, specie minacciata dalla perdita di habitat, dalla riduzione delle prede e dal conflitto con i pastori.

The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is one of the fastest creatures on the planet. It can run at more than 90 kilometres per hour and is able to map the surrounding space easily. Yet, its unique speed won’t be enough to save this animal from extinction.

asiatic cheetah
Cheetahs once lived in India but hunting and other threats led to their disappearance in the 1940s © Jtb/UIG via Getty Images)

The decline of the Asiatic cheetah

Asiatic cheetahs, which have genetically differentiated from their African cousins more than 30,000 years ago, once roamed Asia far and wide, from Saudi Arabia to India. But today they only survive in Iran. Their numbers have drastically decreased (from about 400 individuals in the 1990’s) due to habitat loss and hunting, which decimated cheetahs’ main preys, gazelles. Conflicts between cheetahs and humans, particularly with shepherds, have increased, contributing to the decline.

iran shepherd
In Iran shepherds represent a threat to cheetahs, which are shot to protect cattle © Behorouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Only 100 individuals survive in the wild

The Asiatic cheetah only survives in Iran with only 100 individuals in the wild. The species is one of the most endangered mammals of the planet and is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. Over the past few years, Iran has intensified efforts to protect cheetahs through conservation and raising awareness projects.

Ghepardo nel suo habitat
La riproduzione del ghepardo asiatico in cattività è estremamente difficile e il tasso di successo è inferiore al 30% (Photo by: JTB/UIG via Getty Images)

Releasing cheetahs back into the wild to fight extinction

Many individuals are kept in different zoos all over the world in order to preserve their genetic variability and successively reintroduce them back into the wild. “The decline of the species has led to the crossbreed between related individuals, leading the species ever close to extinction,” said Cesare Avesani Zaborra, scientific director of Parco Natura Viva, northern Italy, which is home to Teo, Duma, and Mookane, three male African cheetahs.

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