Kushki, an Asiatic male cheetah, is waiting for a response to his marriage proposal, which was delivered by his best men, four cyclists. The cyclists travelled 400 kilometres to bring the message to Delbar, a female cheetah who lives on the other side of Iran.
It may sound like a joke – and truth be told, the cheetahs won’t get any say in this arranged “marriage” - but there’s a lot riding on these two rare animals, whom environmentalists hope will breed.
This subspecies of cheetahs, recognisable by its crest of hair, used to inhabit many Asian countries. Today, it is extinct in the wild everywhere but in Iran, where it is critically endangered. Asiatic cheetahs are concentrated in the country’s central plateau, where approximately 50 of them have been spotted over the past few years. The young Kushki and Delbar, who have both lived in captivity since childhood, represent a unique opportunity to breed more cheetahs.
The Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah Project
(CACP), an initiative between Iran’s department of the environment and a UN development programme, is planning to bring the two together in the autumn. They’ll meet in a special centre just for them in Tehran. But that’s only the beginning. Asiatic cheetahs are not easy to breed. According to CACP’s director Homan Jokar, there is only about a 30 percent chance that they will successfully mate.
In the meantime, CACP is seizing the opportunity to educate the public with the cheetah “love story”. They sponsored four volunteer cyclists who travelled the 400 kilometres between the two animals’ current residences – Kushki in the Miandasht Wildlife Refuge
and Delbar in the Turan National Park
. Their goal was officially to deliver a marriage proposal. In reality, their main aim was to stop and talk to people along the way about the importance of safeguarding cheetahs in the wild. They completed their trip on April 30.
The cyclists at a cheetah crossing.