Iran has already suffered the loss of the Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger species, and now the nation’s Asiatic cheetahs are on the brink of extinction, too.
According to The Guardian, conservationists are warning the public that following the U.N.’s recent decision to pull funding from the protection of the world’s second-rarest feline (Amur leopards are reportedly the rarest), the already critically endangered species will be completely wiped out.
“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” said Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh.
The Asiatic cheetah is slightly smaller in size and has a lighter coat than the African cheetah. The cats are known for their distinctive black tear-marks on the sides of their nose. Both Asiatic and African cheetahs are the fastest land mammals in the world. The Asian variety has dwindled due to lack of prey, hunting, farming, industry and the building of human infrastructure across its homelands.
Now, with the exception of small areas within Iran, the cats are nearly gone. This is why conservationists had fought and relied on U.N. initiatives to keep the Asiatic cheetah’s tiny population stable. For 20 years, these animals have been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, as well as the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, less priority was given to conservation efforts toward the cats.
Measures to raise awareness for the rare feline’s plight have included the Iranian national football team having its World Cup and Asian Cup kits printed with pictures of the cheetah, and Meraj Airlines creating a similar campaign adding cheetah graphics to its planes. Additionally, a crowdfunding conservation project was launched by the Iranian Cheetah Society on behalf of these animals, and Aug. 31 was declared National Cheetah Day.
On its crowdfunding page, the ICS says “With respect to international bank embargo against Iran, we are facing serious problems for fundraising which might affect adversely our activities to save the wildlife in Iran.” Donations to ICS go toward a long-term study of the cats and their habitat, as well as on-the-ground conservation efforts that raise awareness about the animal through documentary film and wildlife drama theater.
However, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) funding made up the crux of support for the Asiatic cheetah conservation project. The Guardian reports that “last piece of support has disappeared because the agency has had to make major cuts in its budgets.” Anne Marie Carlsen, the program’s deputy resident representative in Iran, announced last month that the organization would end its current support for the cheetah project after December and Iran now has to run the project on its own.
“The alternative is straightforward,” says Urs Breitenmoser, of the Cat Specialist Group, based in Switzerland. “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.”