Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Asiatic Cheetah

As you may have guessed from the title, I am going to have a quick post about the lesser known subspecies of cheetahs, the Asiatic cheetah!
Illustration from 1037 of tame Asiatic cheetahs

These cheetahs once roamed a large portion of Asia and the Middle East, from Arabia to India. They were at first thought to be genetically indistinct from the African cheetah (according to Stephen J. O'Brien in 2009) as they only separated 5,000 years ago, but a more detailed study published in 2011 showed a lot more genetic diversity. They historically have been used by royalty in the region as hunting cats. Yes, they domesticated one of the fasted land predators to use for hunting.
Look at their blanket-coats!

Now, however, they are critically endangered. There are only from 20-76 Asiatic cheetahs left, and they all exist in Iran (although rarely they can range into Afghanistan). Thus this subspecies is now sometimes known as the Iranian cheetah. Because of the current geopolitical climate, the global conservation community (largely Western educated scientists), are left out of the species survival plans and research is spotty. There have been some attempts to obtain captive breeding cheetahs from the Iranian government, but they are correctly skeptical of many of the schemes. 

The future of the cheetah is unclear, but Iran is taking some measures, rehabilitating gazelle populations and conducting semi-captive breeding. Iran and Russia have also been talking about introducing the Asiatic cheetahs and the Amur tiger (similar to the extinct Caspian tiger [or, as recent studies suggest, maybe almost exactly the same, the two species having been separated only a century before the latter's extinction]) to the Caspian region. There has been some talk of introducing the African cheetah to India (based on Stephen J. O'Brien's assessment that they aren't that dissimilar, which is probably wrong); this has been suspended due to new studies suggesting that they separated 32,000 to 67,000 years ago rather than only 5,000.
The last three Asiatic cheetahs in India, shot by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo

So as to not end on that sad picture, here's a picture of an actual living Asiatic cheetah.

While the future of the Asiatic cheetah is probably bleek, it is really cool and its future looks better than it used to.

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