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The Asiatic Cheetah is a big cat found in Iran and is the only cheetah subspecies indigenous to Asia. While the Asiatic Cheetah resembles the African cheetah, the two are different subspecies with the Asiatic cheetah being slightly smaller than its African counterpart. The Asiatic Cheetah is one of the rarest mammals in the wild with the estimated number of individuals in the wild being about 200.
The Asiatic Cheetah has the distinct spots common in cheetah species all over its body with the spots being quite larger on its tail. The spots are randomly scattered all over the cat’s body but are arranged in a few lines on its nape and its head. The cat’s fur ranges from light fawn-colored to buff-colored with the color being paler on its underbelly as well as on its sides. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes which have a black “tear mark” running from each eye down to the jaws. Adult Asiatic cheetahs have a small mane which is relatively smaller than that on the African cheetahs. The cheetah’s coat is also less thick than that of African cheetahs due to its arid habitat. The Asiatic cheetah has long limbs and a slender frame suited for running at high speeds. Unlike in other big cats, the Asiatic cheetah’s claws are not retractable which offer increased traction while sprinting. Adult Asiatic cheetahs have an average height of 32 inches and total body length ranging between 44 and 53 inches. The tail’s length alone ranges between 26 and 33 inches. The weight of adult Asiatic cheetahs ranges between 75 and 119 pounds with males being slightly larger than females.
The Asiatic cheetah is a carnivore, and there are no records of the cat scavenging. The cheetah’s preferred prey is comprised of small-to-medium-sized mammals including gazelle, wild sheep, Oryx, kudu, warthog, hartebeest, and impala. However, the Asiatic cheetah’s primary prey item is the gazelle which is abundant in the cheetah’s range. The Asiatic cheetah usually hunts during the day with rare nocturnal hunts with the cats avoiding night hunting to decrease the probability of conflicts with bigger nocturnal predators such as the Persian leopard or the Asiatic lion. Before the cheetah’s extinction in India, the cat preyed on the blackbuck, nilgai, and the chital. There have been several recorded instances where the cheetah preyed on domestic livestock especially sheep and goats. However, there is no recorded instance where the Asiatic cheetah preyed on or attacked humans. While hunting, the Asiatic cheetah relies on its high speed and first stalks its prey, camouflaging with the surrounding vegetation until the prey is at its striking distance, sometimes up to 200 feet and sprints going from 0 to 60 miles per hours in under three seconds. The cat has to make the Chase as short as possible due to its small heart-body ratio, which can cause hyperthermia. The cheetah trips its prey using its dewclaw and proceeds to suffocate it by a bite to the throat. However, the cheetah rarely begins to feed immediately after killing the prey and has to allow its body temperature to decrease through heavy panting. While feeding, the cheetah uses its sharp carnassial teeth to slice the flesh off and consumes as much flesh as it can before leaving the remains for scavengers.
The Asiatic cheetah is a strict predator and mainly hunts during the day meaning that the cat is only active during the time when its prey is also active. However, in regions where prey is scarce, the cheetah also hunts during the night. The Asiatic cheetah is among the least temperamental of all big cats and can easily be tamed. According to historians, several ancient rulers tamed the Asiatic cheetah including the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great from India who is alleged to have owned 1,000 cheetahs which he used for coursing antelopes, chinkaras, and blackbucks. The Asiatic cheetah is a territorial animal with the territorial tendencies being more pronounced in males than females. The male cheetahs establish territories ensuring maximum access to the females and such territories range from 22 square miles to 62 square miles. The males mark the territorial borders through urine and claw scratches. Unlike most big cats, the Asiatic cheetah lacks the ability to roar but does have other vocalizations including growling which is used as a display of aggression as well as chirping which is usually an indication of excitement. When a cheetah encounters a dangerous situation such as a large predator the immediate response is to flee because the cat lacks strong claws or jaws to fight off the danger. However, in few instances where the cheetah holds its ground, the cat displays extreme aggression through hisses and growls combined with a sudden stamping of the ground with its forelimbs. When female cheetahs are in estrus, they will leave scent marks in their urine which attract males. Mating mainly occurs during the night with the mating pair copulating several times within a few days.
Habitat and Range
The Asiatic cheetah is found in arid locations in Iran with the cat thriving in open plains and semi-desert regions. However, the cat can also be found in mountainous terrain with dense vegetation. The Asiatic cheetah historical range spread over most of continental Asia from the Caucasus to Afghanistan. The cheetah was found in huge numbers in India, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and in countries in the Arabian Peninsula. However, human hunting of the cheetah’s prey items caused the cheetah’s numbers to decline. Increased human activities such as farming were also destroying the cheetah’s natural habitat and were also driving the cat’s prey animals away from its habitat. The decline was further compounded by active hunting of cheetahs for trophies in the 19th and 20th centuries. These factors drove the Asiatic cheetah to extinction in several regions including Turkey where the cat became extinct in the 19th century followed by India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Official records of the updated 2015 IUCN Red List indicate that the Asiatic cheetah is regionally extinct in Central Asia, Pakistan, Iraq, India, and Afghanistan. The Asiatic cheetah is currently found in small numbers in Iran with the entire wild population numbering about 200 individuals located in several national parks in the country. A growing challenge to the survival of the Asiatic cheetah species in Iran is mortality attributed to road accidents.