Cheetah conservation experts mull artificial insemination

Financial Tribune- Delbar, the female Asiatic cheetah on whom everyone has pinned hope to ensure the survival of her species, might have to undergo artificial insemination.

“There is still a chance for natural conception but we’re now exploring other options,” Iman Memarian, lead veterinarian of the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project, told IRNA.

The project’s breeding program started in 2014 when Delbar, then seven years old, was brought to Tehran’s Pardisan Zoo to join the male Asiatic cheetah Kooshki.

Efforts, led by Hooman Jokar and renowned cheetah breeding specialist Sean McKeown, seemed to have borne results when Delbar became pregnant in the summer of 2015, but she lost her cub.

“We’re working on the details of artificial inseminations with experts from France and Germany, but we’re not going to implement anything yet, as natural conception is still on table,” Memarian said. Unlike other big cats, cheetahs can breed at any time of the year.

“We’re constantly monitoring Delbar and Kooshki so the moment Delbar shows any signs of readiness, we can put them together,” he added.

Pardisan Zoo is home to a dedicated breeding facility. In the middle of the zoo, zookeepers have established three fenced areas named A to C. Fence A belongs to Delbar, Fence C is Kooshki’s domain and Fence B is a shared space.

In 2007, a conscientious hunter named Kooshki bought a male cheetah cub from hunters who intended to kill him and gave the cub to the Department of Environment. The cub was named after his savior. The first Asiatic cheetah to be spotted in Iran since 2003, Kooshki was taken to Mian Dasht Sanctuary in North Khorasan Province before being moved to Pardisan Zoo when he was seven months old.

Four years later, a female cheetah cub found by a shepherd in Shahroud, Semnan Province, was saved by DOE and named Delbar. She was held in captivity until the autumn of 2014 when she too was moved to Pardisan Zoo to meet her potential mate.

The only cheetah subspecies found in Asia, the Asiatic cheetah is now confined to Iran (hence the name Iranian cheetah) where it numbers at about 50, a tenth of what it was less than 40 years ago.