The Guardian | Robin McKie: Conservationists have warned that the Asiatic cheetah is on the threshold of extinction following a UN decision to pull funding from conservation efforts to protect it.
Fewer than 50 of the critically endangered carnivores are thought to be left in the wild – all of them in Iran – and scientists fear that without urgent intervention there is little chance of saving one of the planet’s most distinctive and graceful hunters.
“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” the Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh said. “Iran has already suffered from the loss of the Asiatic lion and the Caspian tiger. Now we are about to see the Asiatic cheetah go extinct as well.”
The Asiatic cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, is slightly smaller and paler than its African cousin. It has a fawn-coloured coat with black spots on its head and neck, and distinctive black “tear marks” running from the corner of each eye down the side of its nose.
Cheetahs – both African and Asian – are the fastest land animals on Earth, using their speed to bring down antelope, gazelle and other moderately large prey. Asiatic cheetahs were once widespread across the continent but were eradicated in India, where they were hunted for sport. The spread of farming also greatly reduced numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries.