The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), also known as the Iranian cheetah, is a critically endangered cheetah subspecies surviving today only in Iran. It used to occur in India as well, where it is locally extinct.
The Asiatic cheetah lives mainly in Iran's vast central desert in fragmented pieces of remaining suitable habitat. Although once common, the cheetah was driven to extinction in other parts of Southwest Asia from Arabia to India including Afghanistan. As of 2013, only 20 cheetahs were identified in Iran but some areas remained to be surveyed.The total population is estimated to be 40 to 70 individuals, with road accidents accounting for 40% of deaths. Efforts to stop the construction of a road through the core of the Bafq Protected Area were unsuccessful. In order to raise international awareness for the conservation of the Asiatic cheetah, an illustration was used on the jerseys of the Iran national football team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Asiatic cheetah separated from its African relative between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago. Along with the Eurasian lynx and the Persian leopard, it is one of three remaining species of large cats in Iran today.
During the British colonial times in India it was called hunting leopard, a name derived from the ones that were kept in captivity in large numbers by the Indian royalty to use in hunting wild antelopes. In Dutch, the cheetah is still called jachtluipaard. The Hindi word चीता cītā is derived from the Sanskrit word chitraka meaning "speckled".
Asiatic cheetahs are slimmer, lighter and slightly shorter than their African brethren. The head and body of an adult Asiatic cheetah measure from 112–135 cm (44–53 in) with a tail length between 66 and 84 cm (26 and 33 in). It weighs from 34 to 54 kg (75 to 119 lb). Males are slightly larger than the females.
The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. It was previously thought that the body temperature of a cheetah increases during a hunt due to high metabolic activity. In a short period of time during a chase, a cheetah may produce 60 times more heat than at rest, with much of the heat, produced from glycolysis, stored to possibly raise the body temperature. The claim was supported by data from experiments in which two cheetahs ran on a treadmill for minutes on end but contradicted by studies in natural settings, which indicate that body temperature stays relatively the same during a hunt. A 2013 study suggested stress hyperthermia and a slight increase in body temperature after a hunt. The cheetah's nervousness after a hunt may induce stress hyperthermia, which involves high sympathetic nervous activity and raises the body temperature. After a hunt, the risk of another predator taking their kill is great and the cheetah is on high alert and stressed. The increased sympathetic activity prepares the cheetah's body to run when another predator approaches. In the 2013 study, even the cheetah that did not chase the prey experienced an increase in body temperature once the prey was caught, showing increased sympathetic activity.
Distribution and habitat
Cheetahs thrive in open lands, small plains, semi-desert areas, and other open habitats where prey is available. The Asiatic cheetah is found mainly in the desert areas around Dasht-e Kavir in the eastern half of Iran, including parts of the Kerman, Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Tehran, and Markazi provinces. Most live in five sanctuaries: Kavir National Park, Touran National Park, Bafq Protected Area, Daranjir Wildlife Reserve, and Naybandan Wildlife Reserve. Remaining cheetahs are divided into widely separated populations. Some possibly survive in the dry open Balochistan province of Pakistan but locals said they had not seen it for more than fifteen years.
During the 1970s, cheetahs in Iran were estimated to number about 200 individuals in seven protected areas. Figures for 2005–2006 suggested between 50 and 60 cheetahs in the wild. Continuous field surveys, along with 12,000 nights of camera trapping, were used to estimate the population size. Using 80 camera traps placed throughout the Dasht-e Kavir plateau, Iranian researchers obtained images of 76 individual cheetahs over the course of ten years from 2001. Camera traps from 2011 identified only 20 individuals in Iran but some areas were not covered. Hooman Jowkar, director of the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah and Its Habitat Project, stated, "the focus is just on specific protected areas; and it is not possible to conduct camera-trapping during fall and winter when cheetah is physically most active." In November 2013, Morteza Eslami, the head of the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS), stated that 40 to 70 cheetahs remained.
In December 2014, four cheetahs were sighted and photographed by camera traps in the Touran National Park.