Authors

Khalatbari L, Durant S, Kitchener AC, Breitenmoser-Würsten C, Ostrowski S, Brouwer E, Breitenmoser U

Abstract

The Asiatic Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus venaticus is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species. The effective population size is estimated to be only twelve individuals. Once widespread in Southwest Asia, the Asiatic Cheetah has been extirpated from nearly its entire range except for Iran, where it is persisting in two small subpopulations, with only the Northern one having recent evidence of breeding. The connectivity between the two subpopulations decreased over the last decades; individuals within the subpopulations are highly related and assumedly highly inbred. Despite conservation efforts undertaken for the past 20 years, the Asiatic Cheetah is now very close to extinction.
Proximate causes for decline are habitat loss and fragmentation, anthropogenic mortalities, (e.g., road kills), wild prey loss, grazing pressure through livestock, and expansion of mining excavation and other activities. Ultimate drivers for decline include lack of land-use planning, capacity, resources, and incentives for local people; site insecurity and drought; and lacking awareness/commitment for the conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah and its prey. The long-term survival of the Asiatic Cheetah depends on their rigorous protection, but also on the recovery of habitats and prey populations, as well as on mitigating the impacts of climate change which has been exacerbating some of these threats.
In the absence of any substantial increase in its size, the Asiatic Cheetah population is very likely to be non-viable and faces a high risk of extinction within a few generations. To prevent extinction, a rapid increase of the population size and genetic diversity is crucial, whilst habitat conditions and wild prey base need to be improved. A recovery plan for the Asiatic Cheetah must consider strategies including options from the in situ and ex situ spectrum. However, given the difficulties and risks of ex situ management, interventions should be taken with ex-treme care and should be well planned to avoid loss of individuals and hence diversity. In addition, any plan for the genetic (ex situ) rescue of the Asiatic Cheetah should be imple-mented in parallel to in situ measures to mitigate the primary, mostly human-caused, threats.
The rescue of the Asiatic Cheetah may still be possible, but only if adequate conservation measures are implemented rigorously and without any further delay. Ex situ considerations depend on the questions (1) whether the population in Iran can be maintained with in situ measures alone, (2) whether the Asiatic Cheetah can still be rescued as a standalone sub-species through breeding in captivity, and (3) whether most of the A. j. venaticus genome can be conserved through reinforcement of the Asiatic Cheetah population with another Cheetah subspecies. Depending on the answers to these questions, four scenarios are identified, with associated risks, costs and benefits. Scenario A consists of in situ measures, scenario B of ex situ measures in which there would either be a pure-bred A. j. venaticus ex situ population (B1) or an admixed population including individuals from other Cheetah subspecies (B2), and scenario C would consist of a combination of in situ and ex situ approaches by maintaining a group of reproducing Cheetahs in the only subpopulation with breeding evidences, and accel-erating (admixed) breeding to provide animals for reinforcement. None of these scenarios can guarantee saving Asiatic Cheetahs from extinction and all have their own associated risks. Saving the Asiatic Cheetah will be a complex, expensive and difficult undertaking, but timely agreement on a strategy and rigorous implementation of actions is the only possible solutions to prevent extinction of the Asiatic Cheetah. Therefore, Iranian and international efforts need to be joined immediately to make this undertaking happen in the shortest possible time.

 

Source: Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Link: situation-cheetah-asia