TEHRAN, May 10 (Mehr News Agency) -- A Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologist said here yesterday that the Asiatic cheetah is teetering on the brink of extinction as a result of illegal hunting.
Back from a 10-day tour across Iran's cheetah habitats, Dr. George Schaller added that the beautiful predator should receive the title of 'Iran's symbol of wildlife'. "Every Iranian citizen should know about the cheetahs and how priceless they are in the process of wildlife conservation."
"You should provide as much food for these animals as you can if you want to save them from extinction," Schaller told the reporters, pointing to rams, ewes, and gazelles as the cheetah's favorite prey. "So, stop illegal hunting and give plenty of food to your precious cheetahs. That's the point," he stressed.
The veteran WCS expert said the Department of Environment here has done enough to protect the cheetahs in their habitats. However, he noted, the project needs to be enforced through putting more rangers on alert in the protected areas.
In November 2000, Dr. Schaller visited Iran to assist the DoE in the implementation of the cheetah project. He had first traveled to Iran as a WCS scientist almost 30 years ago.
The Asiatic cheetah is on the verge of extinction with small populations remaining only in Iran. The total number is unknown, but is likely between 50-100 individuals. The country considers the cheetah an important part of its natural and cultural heritage and as such has become a symbol of its conservation efforts, not only of that species, but of the environment as a whole.
Because the future of the cheetah is so precarious, the DoE launched a major initiative in conjunction with the UNDP-Global Environment Facility and the help of WCS to save the cheetah, its habitat, and prey.
The main threats to the Asiatic cheetah are habitat destruction, loss of prey species, and direct killing by humans. The fragile semi-arid habitat of cheetah is being degraded and in some places returning to desert. About 96% of the natural habitat of Iran has been altered by spreading agriculture, industries, human settlements, mining and infrastructure.
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