An Asiatic cheetah gave birth to three cubs in Iran, the head of the environment department said on May 1, calling it a first in captivity for the endangered species.
The cheetah -- named Iran -- delivered three "healthy" cubs by cesarean section, Ali Salajegheh told the official government news agency IRNA.
"This is the first birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity," he said.
"By preserving these cubs, we can increase the cheetah population in captivity and then in semi-captivity," Salajegheh added.
Iran is one of the last countries in the world where Asiatic cheetahs live in the wild and began a United Nations-supported protection program in 2001.
An Iranian official said in January that only a dozen Asiatic cheetahs are left in the wild in the country, describing the situation for the highly endangered species as “extremely critical.”
Environmentalists say the world’s fastest animal has been the victim of drought, hunting, habitat destruction, and scarcity of prey due to hunters in the remote and arid central plateaus.
The Iranian Cheetah Society says the only remaining habitats left for the majestic cats is the Miandasht Wildlife Refuge and the Touran Biosphere Reserve in northeast Iran.
In 2018, Iran arrested at least seven conservation experts who are members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a local group focused on biodiversity protection, especially for Asiatic cheetahs. They were accused of spying amid widespread condemnations by rights groups and others who dismissed the allegations as baseless.
One of them, well-respected Iranian-Canadian university professor Kavous Seyed Emami, died in prison under disputed circumstances. The others remain in jail.