CCF Works with the Iranian Cheetah Society to Save the Iranian Cheetah

July 30, 2002

by Laurie Marker

CCF Newsletter Number 18: Summer 2002


Once ranging from the Red Sea to India, the last of the Asiatic cheetah, perhaps fewer than 100, exist on the edge of Iran’s Kavir Desert, where suitable prey is very scarce. CCF and IUCN’s Cat Specialist Group have been encouraging international support to assist this critically endangered population. In the 1970s cheetah numbers declined from about 500 animals due to widespread poaching during the early years of the 1978 revolution. Habitat degradation due to livestock grazing has also pushed the cheetah to near extinction. Yet historically cheetahs have played a significant role in Iranian culture, trained by emperors in ancient times to hunt gazelles.

After five years’ effort, in November 2001 Cindy Olson (one of CCF’s Scientific Advisors) and CCF’s Executive Director Laurie Marker finally traveled to Iran. The purpose-to meet government officials and researchers in with the Iranian Cheetah Rescue Program and become familiar with conservation issues, see cheetah habitat and assess suitability for survival. On arrival in Tehran, they were met by Bezad Rahgoshai, the Department of Environment’s (DOE) Deputy Program Manager for the Iranian Cheetah Project as well as University students from the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) Kaveh, Morteza and Mohammad (Farhadinia), with whom Laurie has been corresponding since 1996.

Before a day full of meetings, they met Marita, a 7-year-old captive female cheetah at the Pardisan Eco-Park, in very good condition and well cared for. Meeting with a group of officials at the UNDP office Laurie and Cindy learned about the Global Environmental Funds grant recently given to DOE to rescue Iranian cheetah. In discussing mutual collaboration CCF’s participation was welcomed, as they have been following CCF’s conservation and community-based programs for years. They met with DOE officials, headed by Mr. Natjifi, DOE’s Deputy Director, who has been communicating with CCF since visiting South Africa three years ago and meeting Annie Beckhelling and Cheetah Outreach’s cheetahs. Mr. Natjafi conveyed some of the issues around cheetahs’ plight in Iran, including habitat loss, reduced prey base caused by poaching and overpopulation of domestic livestock in protected areas and predator controls pressures.

The next day the CCF team traveled over 7 hours with Bezhad and Sherine (DOE Director for Protected Areas and Biosphere Reserves), to the Khar Touran Biosphere Reserve in the Seman Province where they met Ali Joorabchian, field biologist and project leader for the Iranian cheetah program. Over the next two days, overnighting at the field station, they spent long days in the field and talked long into the evening. They were shown water holes and told about problems with livestock in reserves. During winter nomadic herders bring in over 180,000 head of small stock for grazing. Along with herders (three were interviewed) come many livestock guarding dogs, dogs so effective they chase off not only all the game from the area, but also the predators. When Ali told them one of the biggest problems was nothing for cheetahs to eat, Laurie asked about livestock. Well, after seeing the dogs in action, Laurie realized how effective they are. They basically have taken over the reserves for the livestock. One of Laurie’s recommendations was to not allow the herders to have dogs with their livestock in the reserves! This coming from a Livestock Guarding Dog advocate!

They saw no wildlife or grass. The land, barren, dry, sand and rocks, high hills (or small mountains), all rock, is dotted with small succulent plants (like tumbleweeds). In addition to livestock, free-ranging camels eat already denuded pastures. Along with camels and livestock, people drive through on motorcycles-they had been told previously cheetah were chased down and killed by people on motorcycles. DOE is currently looking at buying up the Reserve’s grazing rights. Three other Reserves where cheetah may still survive deal with other problems: a smuggling route (drugs from Afghanistan); hunting pressures or competition; and facing human and livestock pressures. To gather data on the species in these regions, trip cameras have been placed in strategic areas. A photo of a cheetah was taken when they were there; one of the field staff saw a wild cheetah about 50 km from where the cheetah was photographed. Six trip cameras are currently in the Naybandan protected and restricted area, where the CCF team was not allowed to travel. Training is obviously a priority. CCF agreed to provide assistance in training on cheetah biology and ecology along with community based and formal education to groups of Iranian biologists. Their training has been limited, but their willingness and commitment strong. (Since then several teams from Iran have visited CCF Namibia.)

On their last day in Iran Laurie gave a public lecture at Pardisan Eco-Park to members of the public, university students and DOE members. The people they met were wonderful. Through these meetings CCF has identified how CCF can assist this nation in saving one of the world’s most unique cats, the Iranian cheetah.


Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) is an Iranian, independent, non-profit NGO established in Aug 2001 and works to save the last remains of the Asiatic cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus venaticus just living in Iran, so more appropriate to be called the Iranian cheetah.

ICS was founded by three young enthusiast students , Mohammad Farhadinia (director), Kaveh Hatami and Morteza Eslami who all had worked since 1997 on the cheetah personally. It is based in Tehran with members from all around the country. Presently, more than 20 people are working as staff at ICS Cheetah Center with various skills, all interested to do something for the cheetah.

ICS is committed to the following goals:

  • Public awareness about the cheetah and its associated biota through education mainly at the local communities
  • Reducing human-cheetah conflict via implementing socio-economic plans
  • Biological surveys to know more about the Iranian cheetah
  • Conserving the cheetah in its natural habitats, particularly through public participation.

ICS has focused a considerable part of its energy on two habitats as ICS Pilot Sites, Miandasht Wildlife Refuge and Abbas Abad Reserve where ICS is conducting several research plans to identify the cheetah hotspots, its seasonal movements and its interaction to the other species. On the other hand, educational efforts are being measured among the local communities inside and around the above pilot sites.

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