Extinction of Asiatic Cheetahs Might Have Affected Balochistan’s Ecosystem

(Painting from Marriane North’s book 1870s – Tamed Cheetahs in Rajasthan)

If a predator species goes extinct, it will have an indirect effect on the ecosystem. It causes proliferation in the population of its prey species (Carrington, 2023). When Thylacine went extinct in Australia, it led to the spread of invasive species which had an impact on the distribution and abundance of vegetation, resulting in the loss of biodiversity (Conservation Intl, 2022). Taking this example, the loss of the Asiatic Cheetah in Pakistan may have had an impact on the ecosystem of Balochistan.

From Royalty to Vermins

(Artwork by Janet Kruskamp –  Royal Hunters)

Asiatic Cheetahs once thrived in Pakistan and India. Asiatic Cheetahs gained the status of Royalty during the Mughal Empire, they were tamed by Shahanshahs to hunt antelopes and gazelles. There were even conversation efforts by Shahanshah Jahangir to breed the Cheetahs in captivity to protect their population however they were unsuccessful, leading to habitat loss (CN Traveller, 2022).

(AI generated Image – An Imperialist hunting down a Cheetah in India)

When the British illegally occupied the region, they saw Asiatic Cheetahs as vermin or pests that needed to be killed (Sirur, 2022). Eventually, their numbers started to dwindle significantly due to extensive hunting by the Imperialists. Such perception was held by Maharajas as well, with the last Cheetah being hunted down in 1947 by Maharaha Ramanuj Pratap Singh (Mint, 2022) (Wild Cat Conservation Organization, n.d).

Extinction of Cheetah and Changes in its Prey Population

(1710s artwork listed on Met Museum US – Mughals using Cheetahs to hunt Chinkaras)

While no credible sources exist about their sightings in Pakistan, it is argued that the last was seen in 1997 (Ghai, 2023). Its primary prey was Gazelles and Chinkara in southern Pakistan. In the absence of the Cheetah, population of Chinkara and other herbivore animals might have increased.  A two-decade-old study found that their population witnessed a growth in the 1990s (Schalle et.al, 2005) whereas a recent article highlights that they are becoming endangered in Pakistan (AOP, 2021). However, there are no recent estimates of the population of Chinkara. IUCN Red List has listed them as ‘Least Concern’ – not qualifying as threatened or near extinction (IUCN, 2023). Thus, based on this data and the extinction of other predator animals in the world, we can assume that after the Cheetah went extinct, there was a rise in the population of its prey species in Balochistan.

Vegetation degradation and Ecosystem Imbalance

(Artwork Victor Higgins – Depicting a desert)

Herbivore species such as Chinkaras or Gazelles have a significant effect on vegetation (Pawar and Hiremath, 2018). Chinkaras depend on a variety of grasses and shrubs. With the probable increase in their populations, it is likely that their consumption of grasses and other vegetation increased (Wacher et al, 2008) resulting in overgrazing in an already vegetation-scarce region. Increased grazing pressure in Balochistan’s Kharan district is already a major issue that has reduced vegetation cover (IUCN, n.d).

Vegetation can retain moisture and when a heatwave sets in, moisture is released to reduce the rising temperature (US Environmental Protection Agency, n.d). This process is known as evapotranspiration and when it is disrupted, it leads to frequent and longer heatwaves (Fang et.al, 2021). Balochistan has repeatedly witnessed extreme and prolonged heatwaves. One of the hottest temperatures of 53.5°C in the world was recorded in Turbat, Balochistan in 2017 (Al Arabiya, 2017), the incidence of unusually high temperatures has dramatically increased in Pakistan.

Significance of Predator-Prey Relationships

(1850s Artwork from Carl Hoffmanns’s Book – Chinkaras running away from an approaching Cheetah)

The article aims to portray Chinkaras not as a detrimental species to the environment in fact a “moderate” population of Chinkaras is beneficial as it leads to the dispersal and regeneration of plant species since their excrement contains plant and fruit seeds (One Earth, 2022). We argue that how the absence of their predator species has implications for the ecosystem. One potential solution to address this issue is the reintroduction of subspecies into their natural habitat. India recently brought back African Cheetahs from South Africa as part of its conservation efforts (Ghai, 2023). However, this practice may not be applicable in Pakistan as the number of Cheetah’s prey such as Chinkaras may be diminishing (AOP, 2020). Although it is not credibly verified.

Pakistan’s Inadequate Conservation Efforts are Impacting the Ecosystem

The practice of allowing influential citizens and foreign dignitaries to hunt animals (AA, 2020) (DAWN, 2021) is reminiscent of our region’s British Raj but such a pattern could be contributing to the volatile change in climate. To mitigate the effects of climate change and maintain diverse biodiversity, Pakistan needs to protect its endangered wildlife as it pollinates plants, disperses seeds, and regulates the population of other species, indirectly contributing to a healthy ecosystem.



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