Bastam is situated ~50 km north of the city of Khvoy, close to the Turkish border at an altitude of 1300 m.
First inhabited in Urartian times and destroyed by a fire , based on morphological criteria.
Moreover, combining archaeozoological and contemporary samples, we show that Asiatic cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) are unambiguously separated from African subspecies.
Until now, only sub-Saharan populations (Menotti-Raymond & O’Brien 1995; Freeman 2009) have been investigated using genetic markers.
Accordingly, comprehensive data regarding the relationships among all African subspecies and between African and Asiatic cheetah populations are still lacking.
Asiatic cheetahs are known to occur in 13 sites in central and northern Iran where the total population is estimated at 70–110 (Farhadinia 2004; CACP 2008).
Widespread poaching of the cheetah’s prey base and persecution by local livestock herders are the main causes of the cheetah’s recent decline and, together with road accidents, are likely the limiting factors to their recovery today (Hunter 2007; CACP 2008).
This low genetic variability is considered to be the result of a bottleneck at the end of the Pleistocene [10 000–12 000 years ago (ya); O’Brien 1987; Menotti-Raymond & O’Brien 1993; O’Brien & Johnson 2005] and has been offered as a possible explanation for the population decline.
However, there is little evidence of inbreeding depression in wild cheetahs (Caro & Laurenson 1994).
Cheetahs are vulnerable to extinction globally and critically endangered in their Asiatic range, where the last 70–110 individuals survive only in Iran.
We demonstrate that these extant Iranian cheetahs are an autochthonous monophyletic population and the last representatives of the Asiatic subspecies We advocate that conservation strategies should consider the uncovered independent evolutionary histories of Asiatic and African cheetahs, as well as among some African subspecies.
The identification of taxonomic and populations units, and understanding their evolutionary relationships, is essential for the conservation of biological diversity (Allendorf & Luikart 2007).