Iran has a remarkable diversity of cats. Until recently, ten cats from the cuddly sand cat to the mighty tiger roamed the country (Table 1). The two largest species, the Caspian tiger and the Asiatic lion, have disappeared a bit more than half a century ago, but eight species are still extant. Iran embraces habitats from subtropical to temperate climatic zones, from the seashore to the alpine level, and is well-known for its high biological diversity, which includes among others almost 200 mammal species. The high diversity is however not only a consequence of the country’s climatic features. Iran is also a crossroads between the continents, between Central Asia and Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Europe. Clearly, the region has been a passage way for species migration throughout the Holocene and the Pleistocene, and more than that, it has been a refuge for many species during the big climatic changes of the past aeons.
Iran is still a refuge for some threatened cats. Best known, Iran hosts the only remnant population of the Asiatic cheetah, the largest share of the regional leopard subspecies, typically called the Persian leopard, and most likely the core populations of many other cat species in south-west Asia – although we often do not know exactly.
The notorious lack of reliable and up-to-date information on distribution, abundance, and trend of the cat populations is a considerable hindrance to defining and implementing sensible and well-targeted conservation measures. Data needed to assess the conservation status of a species are often not primarily a question of sophisticated research, but rather of consistent and careful compilation of information that is “somewhere” available, and of subsequent monitoring. Cat News Special Issue N° 10 intends to set a baseline for the continuous observation and assessment of the situation of Iran’s cat populations. The 33 authors of the articles compiled in this issue have reviewed the existing publications and have compiled available data on all ten cat species. This amazing work has been favoured by two circumstances: First, Iran has a high standard of education and research with a considerable number of universities, working groups, but also non-governmental organisations, which are involved in science-based conservation projects. Second, the Department of Environment DoE maintains in all provinces (Fig. 1) regional offices, and ranger stations in many of the protected areas. The DoE structure provides a perfect network for the systematic compilation of monitoring data for the conservation of wild cats and wildlife in general. And the cooperation between conservation organisations, scientists and DoE personnel – as demonstrated by the list of authors of this issue – offers the chance to assure that information is not only collected, but also analysed and interpreted in a consistent way.
Table 1. Cat species occurring in Iran and IUCN Red List categories of the respective species.
IUCN Red List status
Panthera tigris virgata
Panthera leo persica
lion, Asiatic lion, Persian lion
Acinonyx jubatus venaticus
Pallas's cat, manul
Panthera pardus saxicolor
sand cat, sand dune cat
wildcat, wild cat
The capacity and the organisational framework for the sensible surveillance of the conservation status of the Iranian cat populations exist, and “Cats in Iran” gives the starting point. The species articles also reveal gaps of knowledge to be closed and unanswered question to be addressed. Yet, the lack of information is no excuse for not engaging with conservation.
In the year 2012, the Department of Environment, in cooperation with the Karaj University of Environment and the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, has developed and published “Conservation of Cats in Iran – a roadmap to a comprehensive approach for the conservation of the indigenous cat species of the I. R. Iran”. The Roadmap was developed in a workshop bringing together people interested in cat conservation from the DoE headquarter and provincial offices, from universities and NGOs. This was the so far largest gathering for discussing cat conservation in Iran and has laid the fundament for further cooperation. The Roadmap provides the conceptual framework for further activities. Together with the now published status reviews in this Special Issue, it will provide guidance for advancing the conservation for each of the extant cat species in the country, e.g. in form of species-specific action plans.
The DoE’s protected areas network provides a spatial concept for the conservation of the cats. The DoE manages close to 300 protected areas and national monuments of various size and protection status. For many cat species, these protected areas can, if well-preserved, host important source populations and are designated reference areas for the monitoring. The significance of the protected areas for conserving viable populations is however not yet understood and will need to be studied further. Larger cats like cheetahs and leopards with huge individual home ranges likely roam also outside a protected area and need hence to be protected also in the matrix, and even for smaller cats, isolated populations within protected areas might be too small to be demographically or genetically viable in the long run without being connected to neighbouring populations. Consequently, for a sound conservation of the cats, the multi-use landscape outside protected areas needs to be considered, too. This however requires a different approach, as it implies integrating wildlife conservation into human activities with a number of different land uses.
To engage with local people, communities, and stakeholders, it will be important to inform a broader audience than the conservationists about the state of the cats. This Special Issue about the Cats in Iran is also meant to inform a broader audience and to support awareness raising for these fascinating cats, but also the threats to their survival and the need for their protection and conservation.
Tiger in Iran - historical distribution, extinction causes and feasibility of reintroduction by K. Faizolahi
A historical range for the extirpated Caspian tiger Panthera tigris virgata in Iran, and close to Iran border in adjacent countries, is constructed based on records extracted from scientific literature as well as from travel journals from 17th century to first half of the 20th century. The records were classified into three categories of reliability, depending on the accuracy of identification and the precision of locality. The historical range is potentially open to re-introduction, and as new molecular research established, Amur tiger could be used as a stock to repopulate tiger in its former range from Central Asia to the Caucasus. However, Caspian tiger habitats in Iran have changed dramatically in the last century, and the main causes of its extinction are now at least as effective as before. If any potentially suitable habitat appears in feasibility studies, a long phase of preparation, beneficial to all wildlife, is needed before reintroducing tiger to land it disappeared from more than half a century ago.
Supporting Online Material
The lair of the lion in Iran by S. Khosravifard and A. Niamir
It is more than a half-century since Iran lost its Asiatic lion. Lions were widespread in south Iran, specifically on the slopes of the Zagros and forest regions around Shiraz. They were slightly smaller than their African ancestor, with an obvious running belly fold, shorter mane, and thus visible ears. Current climate and other physical conditions in Iran seem to be in favour of the lions return. However, prey population and potential anthropogenic conflicts are major obstacles in re-introduction plans.
A review of ecology and conservation status of Asiatic cheetah in Iran by M. S. Farhadinia, H. Akbari, M. Eslami and M. A. Adibi
We reviewed existing knowledge about the Asiatic cheetah Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, a critically endangered subspecies which once used to live in west and south Asia, now confined to a small population remaining in Iran. Available literatures, reports and hard facts such as images and films were collected to shed light on biology, status and distribution of the cheetahs in Iran. Unlike previous perceptions about the cheetah characteristics, the Asiatic cheetahs are smaller and lighter than their sub-Saharan African cousins. They mainly live in hilly terrains, foothills and rocky valleys where they have access to existing range of prey in deserts. To cope with environmental variability in drylands, they show high mobility in their movement pattern, patrolling some of the largest ranges ever recorded for the cheetahs. On average, 2.7 (SE = 0.2, ranging 1 to 4) cubs younger than 6 months have been seen in each family, predominantly born in March-April. Since 2001, at least 18 areas in the country are known to have evidence of cheetah presence, mostly (n = 16) officially protected. A joint initiative of national and international organisations has been trying to halt major threats, particularly prey and habitat loss since 2001. However, the subpecies remains critically endangered on the verge of extinction with a population of fewer than 40 individuals, occurring across approximately 242,500 km² (i.e. 23.2% of its historical range in Iran). Decreased breeding, retaliatory killing by herders and occasional mortalities due to poachers or road collisions are the major threats for the small population of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran.
Supporting Online Material:
The caracal in Iran - current state of knowledge and priorities for conservation by E. M. Moqanaki, M. S. Farhadinia, M. Tourani and H. Akbari
Little information is present regarding biology and ecology of the caracal Caracal caracal in Iran. The majority of the available information comes from cheetah reserves in the central provinces, where about a decade of monitoring initiatives and extensive camera trapping surveys have been conducted. The caracal occurs in a wide variety of habitats across Iran, and presence records are currently lacking only from the Caspian Sea region, hyper-arid central deserts, and the Iranian Caucasus. The Iranian caracal’s diet purportedly includes a great variety of prey of different sizes from small rodents and birds to medium-sized ungulates. Occasional predation on domestic small stock is likely to bring the caracal into conflict with local pastoralists. In spite of being highly adaptable and widely distributed, the caracal is in need for conservation attention. The main conservation priorities for the caracal in Iran are scientific research and mitigating negative interactions between caracals and traditional pastoralists. The caracal has been the subject of little empirical research in Iran, and elsewhere outside southern Africa. Here, we provide a thorough summary of what is known to date about the caracal in Iran, enriched with reliable field observations, unpublished reports, and anecdotal accounts. By summarising the current state of knowledge about the biology and ecology of Iranian caracals, we provide suggestions for future research, as well as priority conservation actions.
Supporting Online Material:
The largest lesser cat in Iran - current status of the Eurasian lynx by M. Mousavi, E. M. Moqanaki, M. S. Farhadinia, M. A. Adibi, K. Rabiee and S. Khosravi
The study reviews the status of the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx in Iran with regard to its geographic range, prey species, reproductive biology, human-lynx conflicts, causes of mortality, and conservation measures, based on information from May 2011 to 2016. Based on a thorough literature review, personal interviews, and national questionnaire surveys, we conclude that the lynx is widely, but patchy distributed in North, North-West and West Iran. Iranian lynx feed on a variety of prey, including hare Lepus spp., wild sheep Ovis orientalis, wild goat Capra aegagrus and rarely livestock. Although lynx-human conflicts were considered negligible, poaching accounted for 29.2% of the known lynx mortality, followed by herdsmen and shepherd dogs, road accidents and other factors. Habitat degradation, traditional livestock husbandry, and prey depletion were recognised as the most significant threats to lynx in Iran. Conservation measures recommended are (1) evaluation of the conservation status of protected areas with lynx occurrence, (2) survey of lynx population status, research and conservation planning and (3) public awareness and engagement of local people.
Supporting Online Material:
Baseline information and status assessment of the Pallas's cat in Iran by M. S. Farhadinia, E. M. Moqanaki and M. A. Adibi
Iran is most likely the western boundary of the Pallas’s cat’s, or manul Otocolobus manul global distribution range. The Pallas’s cat is amongst the least-studied felids in Iran and basic questions about its status and natural history have yet to be answered. Our review of the available information suggests significant increases in the range of the species previously known from Iran. North-eastern Iran remains a hotspot of Pallas’s cat occurrence in the country, but there are a growing number of recent confirmed records from southern slopes of Alborz Mountains, as well as the south-central provinces. Human disturbances such as mining activities and traditional pastoralism, particularly during summer when alpine and sub-alpine rangelands are occupied by flocks of livestock, might have adverse impact on the Pallas’s cat. The lack of scientific understanding of the Pallas’s cat in Iran restricts our ability to conserve the species.
Supporting Online Material
Status assessment of the Persian leopard in Iran by A. Sanei, M. Mousavi, B. H. Kiabi, M. R. Masoud, E. G. Mardi, H. Mohamadi, M. Shakiba, A. B. Zehi, M. Teimouri and T. Raeesi
We conducted a national survey to evaluate the recent status of the Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor in Iran. Leopard presence records were investigated in 204 areas under the auspices of the Department of Environment DoE, i.e. in National Parks NPs, Wildlife Reserves WRs and Protected Areas PAs and elsewhere outside these areas within the leopard’s putative range from 2007 to 2011. Questionnaires were sent to DoE provincial and regional offices and we conducted interviews with hunters, local shepherds and villagers to investigate illegal killing and poisoning of leopards. Subsequently, records were classified into two reliability categories of confirmed C1 or probable presence C2. We plotted the most recent Persian leopard distribution map in Iran indicating the reliability of the records. Results show that leopard distribution is interrupted in a vast area covering about 6 provinces in the north-west of Iran, where formerly northern and southern leopard distributions were considerably connected. We therefore hypothesise that leopard distribution in Iran is splitting into a northern and a southern range, with the risk of fragmentation. Almost 70% of the leopard mortalities during the study period resulted from illegal killing and poisoning. While leopard occurrence is strongly related to wild goat Capra aegagrus densities, wild goat numbers are correlated with protection level, size and number of years under protection for each protected area. We recommend a number of research and conservation priorities such as field surveys to assess corridors connecting leopard main habitats particularly in the provinces located in the north-west of Iran to improve the current and planned conservation programmes. Further transboundary cooperation among the neighbouring countries is essential to improve the Persian leopard conservation in the region.
Distribution, characteristics and conservation of the jungle cat in Iran by A. Sanei, M. Mousavi, K. Rabiee, M. S. Khosravi, L. Julaee, F. Gudarzi, B. Jaafari and M. Chalani
The jungle cat Felis chaus is among the least known felids worldwide. A national survey was conducted to assess and document the status and distribution of this species in Iran. A total of 280 jungle cat presence records have been collected, including road kills, injured animals, hunted and trapped specimens and observations and reports made by experts. Observations reported by local communities living inside or close to jungle cat habitats and by inexperienced people were also recorded. We then classified the data into three categories (i.e. C1: confirmed presence, C2: probable presence, C3: unconfirmed presence) on the basis of confirmability of records. Findings indicated that the jungle cat is distributed at least in 23 out of the 31 provinces of Iran. A total of 69 records came from protected areas, i.e. National Parks NPs, Wildlife Reserves WRs and Protected Areas PAs, covering an area of 38,343 km², which is 23.5% of the total area of all protected areas under the auspices of the Department of Environment DoE of Iran. The species was found at altitudes ranging from 45 m to 4,178 m and in a variety of habitat types from plains and agriculture lands to the mountains. However, it was mostly recorded in shrub lands and woodlands. We suppose that the diet of jungle cat in Iran mainly consists of fish, birds (waterfowl, poultry and galliform birds) and rodents. More detailed studies and status assessment of the species on a local scale, particularly in the areas affected by land use changes and severe dry condition are essential. Several conservation measures are recommended to improve the status of the species in Iran.
Supporting Online Material:
Sand cat in Iran - present status, distribution and conservation challenges by T. Ghadirian, H. Akbari, M. Besmeli, A. Ghoddousi, A. Kh. Hamidi, M. E. Dehkordi
For studying the distribution, ecology and threats of the smallest felid species in Iran, the sand cat Felis margarita, we gathered all published and unpublished data from across the country and categorised them into hard fact C1 and anecdotal data C2. Based on 46 presence points (C1 = 26 and C2 = 20) from 6 out of 31 provinces, sand cat distribution in Iran is limited to the desert habitats in the centre, east and south-east of the country. Sand dunes with Saxaul trees are the main habitats for sand cat in Iran, as well as arid flat plains with little plant distribution. Potential prey species are desert rodents, reptiles, hare and probably some bird species. Killing by shepherd dogs and trapping by locals in houbara bustard snares are the major threats to survival of this elusive cat in Iran. Desert safaris and road accident may become a potential threat to the existence of sand cats in fragile desert habitats. For better conservation actions, more fine-scale distribution studies especially in eastern and south-eastern parts of the country, diet, estimate of home range size and density of sand cats in Iran are required.
The status of wildcat in Iran - a crossroad of subspecies? by A. Ghoddousi, A. Kh. Hamidi, T. Ghadirian and S. Bani'Assadi
The wildcat Felis silvestris is one of the least-known felid species of Iran with limited information on its taxonomy, distribution, ecology and threats available. In this paper, for the first time we conducted a review on the literature and other available resources to create baseline information for future research and conservation. Also, we gathered recent records of wildcat presence from across the country. By analysing 57 images of this species, contrary to earlier beliefs, wildcat in Iran appears to solely belong to the Asian (ornata) subspecies. However, future genetic analyses are essential to backup this finding and to clarify the taxonomic status of wildcats in south-west Asia. Wildcat was recorded in 27 out of 31 provinces of Iran, in a variety of natural habitats to the vicinity of human landscapes, except for extremely high altitudes or deserts. Two newly established provinces (Alborz and Qom) are suspected to have wildcat populations, but lacked any reports. However, there have been no historical or recent records from Gilan and Mazandaran Provinces, which are mainly covered by the Hyrcanian forests. The reason behind such distribution pattern requires further investigations. Road accidents, poaching as a retaliatory action against poultry depredation and by-catch in illegal snares are the main reported threats to the existence of wildcats in the country. Potential threats from shared diseases and hybridisation with domestic cats are unknown and needs further research.