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The Iranian Cheetah

Iran Nature and Wildlife Magazine

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Acinonix
Species: A. Jubatus
Sub Species: A. J. Venaticus

Distribution
At the turn of this century, Iranian cheetah existed in an extensive part of the Asian Continent, form India to Saudi Arabia and Syria. But, today, this valuable cheetah can only been seen in our country. A small number of these cheetahs live in the provinces of Khorassan, Semnan, Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman and fars.

Features
Cheetah, although a member of the Felidae Family (cats), from a far, it looks very much like a dog. Its long slender legs, elongated, lithe body, broad chest and narrow waist, make it appear like a hound dog. However, unlike the Canidae family (dogs), cheetah has a small head, short muzzle and small, round ears. Cheetah resembles a dog with a cat's head.

Cheetah's face is marked by conspicous "tear stripes" running from the corners of the eyes, down sides of nose and reaching the corners of lips. Tip of the tail in Iranian cheetahs is black. Head and body length is about one and half meters long, tail being 60-80 cm and weighs between 40-70 kg. Cheetah's coat is a yellowish -red colour on the back and a white color below and above the eyes, muzzle and the underparts. The body is completely covered with round, solid black spots. These apparent features, plus a big heart and volumious lungs, have turned cheetah into the fastest land runner in the world.

Habitat and Food
Cheetah's favourite habitats are broad plains, expanses of rolling hills, steppes and arid regions. Cheetah's main prey consists of animals like goitered gazelle, jabeer gazelle and hares; Iranian cheetahs also feed on sheep, ewe, goat, bustard and even small rodents such as wood mouse and jerboa.

Habits
Cheetah usually attacks the weakest and the oldest animals of a herd and prefers females to males. Cheetah's extraordinary speed sometimes reaches 110 kilometers with strides of 7 meters lpng, enabling him to run up to 500 meters.  Cheetahs usually hunt in pairs. They have greater daytime activity but are also active on moonlit nights.

Cheetahs are social animals and in the wild, they form tow groups; one consisting of a mother and her young whith stay together for up to 2 years befor separating and form a more permanent group. Males and females are only seen together during the breeding season. Females are solitary except when they're raising cubs. this period is not too long.

Breeding
Iranian cheetahs start to breed mainly in mid- winter. Gestation period is between 91-95 days, after which between 1-8 and more often 2-4 cubs are born by the cubs have closed eyes when born and they remain with their mother for 17 months. Cheetahs reach adulthood at the age of one.

Past and Present Situation of Cheetahs
Athough cheetah is the Fastest runner on land, it is in serius danger of extinction, to the point that if current trends continue, the world will experience the loss of one of the most beautiful and valuable animals.

The Iranian cheetah has disappeared from those regions that once formed its habitat, and the only surviving population, wich total between 50-200, live in Iran. This small number points to the reality that Iranian cheetahs are in danger of extinction and unless a serious programme of protection is devised, this species will face extinction as did the Iranian lion and tiger before it.

According to the latest categories of IUCN, (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), Iranian cheetah is grouped as being in serious danger of extinction. CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) has acknowledged the protection of cheetahs as its main task. This convention is responsible for controlling the trade of endangered plant and animal species.

According to the laws governed in Iran, cheetah is amongst the protected mammals and its hunting or the trade of its products is prohibited. A more substantial threat to cheetah's survival, is poaching for pleasure and trade. Other factors also include, reduction in the number of its suitable prey such as gazelle, sheep and ewe due to poaching, loss of habitat and land- use changes, all leading to the cheetah's own disappearance as well as its prey.

It has been experienced that proper conservation of habitats and the strict prohibition of poaching, will lead to a rapid population increase of the cheetah race.