September 2, 2005Its numbers may be as spotty as its coat,
but the rare Asiatic cheetah is holding its own, as seen in this
photograph taken by an automatic "camera trap" in Iran. A female
cheetah and her four six-month-old cubs wandered into the camera's
range while settling down for a rest in the shade. Experts say this
is the largest group of the endangered cheetah ever photographed.
The camera was set up earlier this year in Iran's Dar-e Anjir Wildlife Refuge by scientists hoping to track the cheetah's progress.
The big cats are perilously close to extinction, with only about 60 adults known to exist in all of Asia, mostly in Iran's arid central plateau.
Closely related to the African cheetah, the Asiatic cheetah once thrived from the Arabian Pensinsula to India, but hunting and habitat loss have taken their toll. Now protected in Iran, the cheetah faces a new threathuman overhunting of its prey, such as gazelle and wild sheep.
According to Luke Hunter, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist with the camera-trap project, this healthy family photo is a welcome sign.
"This is the first female we've seen with cubs," Hunter said. "We just haven't seen large litters like this that are so old."
Blake de Pastino
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