Only a dozen Asiatic cheetahs are left in the wild in Iran, the deputy environment minister said, describing the situation for the highly endangered species as “extremely critical.”
"The measures we have taken to increase protection, reproduction, and the installation of road signs have not been enough to save this species," Hassan Akbari told the Tasnim news agency on January 9.
He said there are believed to be only nine male and three female Asiatic Cheetahs in the country, compared to an estimated 100 in 2010.
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 Touran Biosphere Reserve in northeast Iran.
Asiatic cheetahs once lived across the grasslands of India, Pakistan, Russia, and the Middle East, but have been entirely wiped out except in Iran. The cheetah species is slightly different than those found in parts of southern Africa.
The Iranian government became the target of a domestic and international outcry when a revolutionary court in November 2019 imprisoned at least six conservation experts who are members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a local group focused on biodiversity protection, especially for Asiatic cheetahs.
The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arrested seven of the defendants in January 2018, as well as Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian university professor.
The environmentalists were accused of spying for the United States and Israel, “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”
Environmental and rights groups condemned the allegations as fabricated and the trial unfair.
The only "classified dirt" that the conservationists were likely to have accessed in their work is the "dried stool" of cheetahs they were fighting to protect, Mojgan Jamshidi, an Iranian journalist who covers environmental issues said in 2018.
Emami died in detention in February 2018 under suspicious circumstances. Iranian authorities claimed that he committed suicide, a scenario people who knew him said was impossible.
Iran frequently levels espionage charges against political and human rights activists and also dual nationals without publicly providing evidence.
Prosecutions in Iran's so-called revolutionary courts are frequently kept secret from defendants' families and even lawyers. Torture, mistreatment, and forced confessions are also common, according to rights groups.
With reporting by AFP