Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 49 – The Persian Fallow Deer

Persian fallow deer looking at camera

Photographer: Heinz Koloska

The Persian fallow deer, also known as the Mesopotamian fallow deer, has been hunted down for centuries, for food and in the name of sport.  In the 1940s, by which time firearms had become far more widespread and poaching had increased dramatically, the species was thought to have finally become extinct.  A species once prolific throughout the Middle East had finally been lost to guns and knives.  But, good things do happen, and in 1956 two small, wild populations (twenty-five individuals in all) were discovered in Iran. Clearly not yet extinct, the Persian fallow deer instantly became one of rarest mammals on earth.

This astonishingly pretty little deer has a short, smooth reddish-brown to sandy-coloured coat covered with bold, white spots.  The muzzle, chin, neck and undersides are a creamy white.

The male of the species has long, thick flattened antlers.  Their horns grow after their first year.  By the second year, the antlers will have shown.  Antlers are shed annually, but grow back immediately.  The antlers are covered with ‘velvet’, protecting them during growth.  By the end of the summer, the bucks emerge resplendent with full antlers again. Each year, the buck’s antlers grow a little larger.  This continues until their eighth year, when they will be fully mature.

The Persian fallow deer is the largest of all the fallow deer.  Adult bucks typically weigh about two hundred pounds.  They average five feet in length and can reach a height of three feet.  Does are slightly smaller.

Fallow deer are herd animals.  Mating occurs during the rut.  Males fight during this time, but mostly without injury;  they follow a sort of Marquis of Queensbury rules system, and they all stick to it.  Each herd has a dominant buck.  The rut takes place during August and early September.  Calving follows at the end of March to early April, after a gestation period of two hundred and thirty days.  One fawn will usually be born and twins are very rare.

Persian fallow deer are excellent swimmers.  When sensing danger, they are fast to escape and can leap up to two metres if necessary. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help if someone is pointing a gun at you.

Woodlands,  such as tamarisk and pistachio, and dense riparian thickets.
Iran and Israel  (where it has been re-introduced)
What they eat
Grass, leaves and nuts.
The species’  most dangerous predator is man.  Humans have been mercilessly killing fallow deer (for venison)  for a very long time and, no doubt, the skins have also been made use of.   Habitat destruction has played its part, as has grazing competition with livestock and natural predators, such as the  jackal, hyena and Syrian brown bear.   As numbers have dwindled,  they have become susceptible to inbreeding as well.
Status: Endangered
The Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) is listed on the  IUCN List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  They are listed on Appendix 1 of  CITES.   Sadly,  although it is now illegal to hunt the Persian fallow deer,  poaching continues.  Some are bred in captivity (in Germany, Iran, and Israel)  and,  by all accounts,  there has been a good success rate in these projects.   The remaining natural members of the species can only be found in south-western Iran.  Re-introduced populations exist in other locations in Iran and in Israel. All stem from the native population.

“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 42 – The Iranian or Asiatic Cheetah

Iranian or Asiatic cheetah with cubs

Source: Unknown

As opposed to being hunted by man, these magnificent animals were once used as man’s hunting companions.  Known then as the ‘hunting leopard’, Indian princes kept Asiatic cheetah in captivity (in very large numbers) and trained them, as they did birds of prey, to hunt.  With the cheetah, they hunted various antelope. The royal families, and their multitudes of ‘sporting guests’, would wander off with these wonderful creatures in tow and the hunt would begin.  This practise began over five thousand years ago and continued until the first half of the twentieth century.  [1]  Part of the reason for this species being endangered today relates to the mass, ill-managed, live capture of cheetah for the pleasure of those aristocratic folk, so long ago.  Though this was not the sole reason for the decline, it played a huge part.  For example, Akbar the Great, Mogul Emperor of India, had an eye-watering collection of an estimated six thousand cheetah. Not many left in the wild after that sort of extraction.  By 1950 the species had become extinct in India, and most other places as well.

Despite the many wrongs of this, I cannot help but wonder how long it took to train these cheetah to surrender their kill.

These fabulous cats are just built for hunting.  Their bodies are svelte and their legs long and strong.  They have semi-retractable, blunt claws to grip the ground as they travel at speeds of up to eighty miles an hour.  They have a tail which acts as a balancing tool, when cornering sharply; and their eyes, high on their small heads, have a 210-degree field of vision.   Asiatic cheetah  (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)  are also excellent stalkers and are able to get extremely close to their prey before they are seen.  Once caught, strong jaws can suffocate the prey within minutes.

When fully grown, the Asiatic Cheetah is about four to five feet in length, and weighs up to fifty-four kilos.  As is so with most animals, the male is larger than the female.  Both sexes chirp when they call.  The strange sound is more like a tiny, yapping puppy than a fierce big cat, and can be heard up to a mile away.

Breeding is thought to take place in mid-winter.  Gestation lasts up to ninety-five days, after which one to four cubs are normally produced.  Sadly, many do not make it past twelve weeks.

The name cheetah comes from the Hindi word “chita” meaning spotted.

Semi-desert areas and small plains where prey is available.
Most are in Northern Iran with lesser numbers being found in Sub-Saharan Africa
What they eat
Ungulates such as gazelle, wild sheep and goats.  But, they have also been forced into hunting cattle because of the loss of their primary prey species, due to poaching.
Alteration of the grasslands to farmland, overgrazing of domestic livestock, habitat fragmentation and degradation.  Hunting and poaching of the cheetah’s prey.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Asiatic cheetah is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  The total population may only be 50 to 100.  Exact numbers are difficult to obtain.  Three separate bodies, the Iranian Department of Environment , the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, partnered to found the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP). The intention being to preserve and rehabilitate the Asiatic cheetah’s remaining habitat in Iran.
“The second phase of CACP was initiated in January 2009 to run as a four-year project, with a budget of $4 million funded by national and international organizations. Recently, it was announced that the project will be extended until 2015”. [2] 

Let us all hope this extremely beautiful animal can be saved by all of this.  I know I am certainly rooting for them, and perhaps you should too.

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer