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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Conservation Frontliners: Iranian Cheetah Society

There are the WWFs and the IUCNs of this world - the necessary international conservation organizations that have built themselves into global mouthpieces for environmental welfare and preservation. And all credit to them.

But when such groups evolve to such a scale and complexity, they have no choice but to address policies and mandates, by and large, on an equally global perspective.

But what fascinates me is how it all begins. How do people of likeminded dedication and concern for a particular habitat or species come together for a common cause and get those first wheels of active conservation in motion. It takes a particular kind of organization to rally itself and its members and continue to aim for its goals, inspite of poor funding, little media coverage and piecemeal governmental support. Fortunately there are many of these determined groups distributed throughout the region, some that I've admired merely by following their progress through the years, and others that I have personally spent time in the field with. These short reports will be an attempt to give them some much needed exposure:

The Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS)
ICS is an organization working pretty much against the odds - but they are an organization after my heart: a local (Iranian), independent, non-profit NGO established over 4 years ago, to study and conserve the last remaining individuals that make up the total wild population of Asiatic Cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus venaticus.

What's more, ICS was founded by three young students, all having worked personally on cheetah field studies. Although on shoestring budgets their work is centred not only on the movements of Cheetahs in two of Iran's potential cheetah hotspots, Miandasht Wildlife Refuge and Abbas Abad Reserve, but also on the other fauna associated with the habitats - most of which are highly endangered themselves.

Employing a virtual net of infrared camera traps and a core team made up of their small staff and residents from local communities, ICS has made some amazing new observations in the field, not least of which was the first ever sighting (through camera-trap photo) of a Persian Leopard, Panthera pardus saxicolor, in North-eastern Iran, last December.

This is important confirmation of the leopard's presence in the area as it hasn't been extensively studied previously - and also because the cheetah and the leopard coexist inside 4 habitats of 7 verified cheetah reserves in Iran. So a renewed survey of the big cat's ecology and population densities will also contribute in implementing a similar management plan for the cheetahs themselves.

The data being gathered by ICS as I write this is remarkable - and they're also taking their message to the schools - I feel, one of the cornerstones of instilling environmental protection into the minds of the public at large.

ICS is definitely a group to look out for.

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