How the Iranian Environment Informed a Cheetah Children’s Book

May 28, 2023
May 28, 2023 admin

How the Iranian Environment Informed a Cheetah Children’s Book

Hormoz is a Persian name. Derived from the word Ormozd (330 B.C), it refers to Ahura Mazda (the highest spirit in the Zoroastrian faith), and it is my father’s name.

And since our last name, Asadi, means “from the lions,” it’s fair to say my father encompassed the spirit of the lions in environmentalism. In fact, some might say, he was the last Persian lion, which I include in my wildlife conservation children’s book about Asiatic cheetahs. You see, during the pandemic, I found the time to do something I have never had the time to do before – gather articles, pictures, and books about my father, an Iranian environmentalist and wildlife conservationist, Dr. Hormoz Asadi.

What I learned has impacted me for life. The last cheetahs and leopards of Iran are dying, just as the Caspian tiger and Asiatic lion already have. The majestic Asiatic lion that once stood on the Persian flag and stamped Iranian currency, was also enslaved by aristocrats, and killed for sport. By 1940, the last Asiatic lion was killed in Iran. The Qajar rulers were actually the original Tiger Kings, but today most Iranians do not even know that we even had Caspian tigers. Like all beautiful cats, Caspian tigers were also killed for their skins, and last remaining tiger in Iran was seen in 1940.

It is interesting that the Persian leopard, is the only big cat to have been granted the heritage title,“Persian.” Today, a mere 550 or so of the panthera pardus ciscaucasia, commonly known as the Persian or Caucasica leopard, remain. The potent cocktail of global sanctions, desertification, politics, and human-animal conflict, means Asiatic cheetahs and Persian leopards are on the same trajectory of their other big cat predecessors in Central Asia. Their extinction may happen during our lifetimes, but it is not due to a lack of effort by some Iranian environmentalists like my father.

My father spent six years helping India save its tigers and leopards and was responsible for India’s largest-ever animal skin bust: 400 kg. The event was featured in newspapers and books, as well as a BBC documentary.

In 1997, the tear-stained face of the Asiatic cheetah called my father back to Iran, which lead to the rise of its conservation efforts. He returned to Iran as the only Iranian to have attained International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Cat Specialist group member status. Vowing to help the last remaining Asiatic cheetahs (also known as the Iranian cheetah) on Earth, he embarked on a long-term study to track Asiatic cheetahs. In 1997, he estimated that only 100 existed in the world at that time–and only in Iran, whereas an estimated 100,000 roamed Asia and Africa in early 1900s.

This realization led my father to create the Asiatic Cheetah Conservation Project (ACCP) to conduct more research and raise international awareness. ACCP eventually morphed into the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) and operated for about 20 years.

Unfortunately, my father passed away in 2008 while relocating Persian Fallow deer, another endangered species in Iran. Since then, sociopolitical, economic, and other changes in Iran, have in essence, crippled conservation efforts and worsened the cheetah’s already vulnerable status.

My father’s lifetime of risk-taking, innovative thinking, academic studies, poacher-catching, fieldwork and animal rescuing eventually took his life. Yet, his hard work may not be able to save Asiatic cheetahs from extinction. Projects and agreements have fallen apart. As I write this piece, less than 40 Asiatic cheetahs, exist in Iran (Farhadinia et al.,2016). While the African species is vulnerable, too, without global sanctions and travel bans, which severely restrict wildlife workers, Africa’s estimated 7000 remaining cheetahs still have a chance.

Maybe by this point in my story, you can sense that when I put all these pieces of information I had gathered together, I was swimming in worry. What would my dad do if he was alive? I got the message on January 9th, 2021, on the 13th-year anniversary of my father’s passing: His MSc. thesis, An Environmental Perspective on Iran, which I had been trying to get my hands on for months, was finally scanned by the university of Mankato Minnesota.

Now, as the daughter of an Iranian conservationist, I recall my dad having a copy of The Complete Fauna of Iran, the essential reference guide of over 1000 animals. What I did not know is that my father was advised by the author of the book, Dr. Eskandar Firouz (1925-2020), who was also the former Minister of the Iranian Department of the Environment (DoE). Apparently, Dr. Firouz and my father had plans to create an environmental protection agency. By the time my father finished his MSc., in 1980, Iran was going through a revolution, and a subsequent war with Iraq. Needless to say, we did not return to Iran, and my father and Dr. Firouz were unable to actualize their plans.

What if there was an alternate reality, like in SciFi movies, in which Hormoz Asadi and Eskandar Firouz, did manage to implement their plan to create an environmental protection agency? Would Asiatic cheetahs still be on the brink of extinction? Would cars still be racing through national parks, killing Iran’s cheetahs? What I do know is that in the 70s, Asadi and Firouz were trying to address the same problems that are killing the few remaining Asiatic cheetahs and Persian leopards today! These hese two men could foresee the environmental problems of the future: desertification, pollution, poor land management and too many roads running through national parks.

All of this knowledge were fragments of my father’s wildlife conservation work, which I had separated from my life story, were spread across dusty libraries, history books, foreign policy papers, the memories of wildlife conservationists, or hidden in my father’s field notes and thesis. By gathering these materials and piecing them together, with some help from my father’s colleagues and former students from Tehran Azad University, I am in the process of bringing awareness to his work and the work of his students and colleagues.

I also realized that their efforts were part and parcel to how I ended up a foreigner in the US and a tourist in Iran, so I found myself time traveling. This twist of fate not only impacted cheetahs and leopards, it impacted me. Before embarking on all this research, I did not fully understand why my parents ever moved to the United States. Before research into the work of my father, I never had the drive I have to raise awareness about endangered big cats in Iran that I have today.

My latest effort, is focused on Marita, a cheetah cub my father saved in Iran. Reading my dad’s notes and recollecting stories about Marita stirred me so deeply that I began writing her life story as a young-readers book called: Marita the Cheetah. She eventually became the first Iranian cheetah in Tehran’s Pardisan Park zoo and inspired conservation for the endangered Asiatic cheetah. Once published, and translated to Farsi as well, all the proceeds will go to Asiatic cheetah conservation.