Asiatic Cheetah Breeding Efforts Underway

Asiatic Cheetah Breeding Efforts UnderwayAsiatic Cheetah Breeding Efforts Underway

It all began in 2007, when a conscientious hunter named Kooshki bought a male cheetah cub from hunters who intended to kill him, and gave the cub to Iran’s Department of Environment (DoE). The cub was named after his savior.

The first Asiatic cheetah to be spotted in Iran since 2003, Kooshki was taken to Mian Dasht Sanctuary in North Khorassan Province before being moved to Pardisan Zoo when he was seven months old.

Four years later, a female cheetah cub found by a shepherd in Shahroud, Semnan Province was saved by the DoE and named Delbar. Delbar was held in captivity until the autumn of 2014, when she too was moved to Pardisan Zoo to meet her potential mate.

Pardisan Zoo is home to a dedicated breeding facility established thanks to efforts from Hooman Jokar, head of the Cheetah Conservation Project in Iran, and Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park in Ireland and renowned breeding specialist.

  Playing Hard to Get

For months now Kooshki and Delbar have shared a living space in the hope of starting a family and saving their endangered species from extinction.

In the middle of the zoo, zookeepers have established three fenced areas; naming them A through C. Fence A belongs to Delbar, Fence C is Kooshki’s domain, and Fence B is a shared space.

According to Jokar, Kooshki never conceals his interest in Delbar.

“Whenever we let Delbar in Fence C, Kooshki starts his courting ritual; growling and pushing himself up against the fence. He lets her know that he is interested in her.” Delbar, however, is not easily swayed.

To introduce them to one another, Delbar would be let in Fence B once Kooshki had left, to allow her to get used to his smell. After 25 days, they met for the first time.

“We expected Delbar to cause Kooshki serious injury. We even had a team of veterinarians to hand to treat his wounds,” Jokar recalled, according to the Persian daily Etemad.

Delbar’s aggression, however, was overestimated; after slapping Kooshki several times in the face, the couple roamed around the fenced area together. They now meet every two days for 12 hours, away from prying eyes.

“We do not want Delbar to feel stressed. We are not even going to give her a pregnancy test until the mating season is over. Any form of stress could render our efforts futile.”

While there are other methods of impregnation, such as artificial insemination and IVF, Jokar and his colleagues are adamant about natural conception.

  Pardisan: More Than Just a Zoo

Breeding of endangered species is not the only purpose of the facility. According to Jokar, the facility also acts as a sanctuary for injured animals that are too weak to survive in the wild. “They are treated and kept here until they are fit enough to go back to the wild,” he pointed out.

Sean McKeown, who recently led an effort to breed African Cheetahs in the UAE, believes Tehran is well-equipped for breeding purposes. In a reproduction effort consisting of a male and a female cheetah, there is a 30% chance of success, McKeown was quoted as saying.

“The first generation of offspring will be kept in Pardsian Zoo,” Jokar said, adding, “while the second and third will be taken to a protected area in North Khorasan Province to be prepared for the wild.”

It is evident that the project to save the Asiatic cheetah is off to a good start, but its success or failure solely depends on Delbar.  Will she deem Kooshki fit enough to father her children, or will she ignore him in the hopes of finding a better mate? If only she could understand that her species’ surival was at stake.