ASIATIC CHEETAH: Scientific name: Acinonyx fubalus venaticus.
The Asiatic cheetah is a Critically Endangered big cat. Also known as the Iranian cheetah, it is estimated that there are less than 100 cats currently living in the wild. It once lived in India, Afghanistan, Arabia and Pakistan. Now there are only small groups in various Iranian reserves, with occasionally sightings in Pakistan. It is one of only three wild cats that can be found in Iran.
The Asiatic cheetah is generally believed to have separated from African cheetahs somewhere between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago. More recent research places the separation at 5,000 years ago. Young cats were often captured in the wild, tamed and trained to hunt by Indian nobility.
This cat can grow (from head to body) up to 4.5 feet long with a tail almost 3.5 feet in length. Their heads are smaller than African cheetahs. The cat's fur is tan with black spots and they also have a stripe that runs from the corner of the eyes to the nose and mouth area.
They prefer open habitats, such as plains and deserts. although some Iranian cheetahs can be found in more rugged, mountain-like terrain. Most of the remaining cats can be found in five sanctuaries: Touran National Park; Daranjir Wildlife Reserve; Naybandan Wildlife Reserve; Kavir National Park and Bafq Protected Area.
Cheetahs will establish a territory. Females will frequently travel, sometimes for very long distances. They primarily prey on gazelle, but will also eat wild goats, sheep and hare.
Cheetah males will seek out females for mating at approximately one year of age and females begin to mate at two years of age. The males have a low sperm count, resulting in a low number of cheetah births. The gestation period is 90 to 100 days and female cheetahs can have up to 9 cubs, but most will end up dying due to predators.
The mother cheetah will take care of her cubs and travel with them until they reach 1 to 1.5 years of age. After the mother leaves, the young females will go off on their own but the males will stay together or, in the case of only one or two males, join another group of males.
The Asiatic cheetah's near extinction is the result of hunting, loss of prey, human conflict and loss of habitat.
Information from bigcatwildcats.com; pictures from Google.