Tehran, Iran – Pirouz, the last survivor of three endangered Asiatic cheetah cubs born in captivity last year, has died in a veterinary hospital in Tehran from “acute kidney failure” just two days before turning 10 months old.
The beloved cub had become a source of national pride.
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Doctors at the Central Veterinary Hospital in the Iranian capital had begun dialysis procedures on Monday night but could not save the cub.
“I apologise to the people on behalf of myself and all my colleagues because we couldn’t keep Pirouz alive,” said Amir Moradi, the head of the hospital, in a video message.
The cub was named Pirouz – which means “victor” – after overcoming all odds to survive.
He was born on April 30, 2022, at a wildlife refuge in eastern Semnan to his mother “Iran” and father “Firouz”, who had been matched in captivity in the hopes of increasing the population of the endangered species.
Three cubs were born via Caesarean section, but they were rejected by their mother.
They had to be fed by humans who had no experience in raising cheetah cubs and also lacked the resources.
As the nation watched, the first cub died within days, the second two weeks later. A veterinary expert specialising in cheetahs was flown in from Africa, who also brought different kinds of milk and nutritional supplies.
Alireza Shahrdari, Pirouz’s main caretaker who was with him since birth and sometimes even slept with him, had previously told state media that the cub faced gastrointestinal challenges from the beginning, and was once in a dire condition after undergoing an enema.
Shahrdari was with Pirouz until his death, providing tearful updates on Monday.
Pirouz, who lived most of his life in Tehran after being moved to the Pardisan Park in the northwestern part of the city, had captured hearts and minds as thousands followed his updates online and shared his images.
“Pirouz” started trending on Twitter as tens of thousands of people took to social media on Tuesday to mourn him. Many considered him a rare ray of hope in a society under immense pressure from the fallout of deadly protests that began in September, and economic woes.
— احسان بداغی (@EhsanBodaghi) February 28, 2023
“Even more bitter [than Pirouz’s death] is that it feels like of all the hopes in the world only this one, Pirouz, was left for a nation,” tweeted journalist Ehsan Bodaghi.
Many criticised the authorities for failing to take care of the cubs and also vented their anger at the inefficiency in dealing with other environmental issues, including chronic water shortages and deadly air pollution.
Pirouz’s mother is pregnant again, according to Moradi, the head of the hospital where the cub died. However, he did not provide further information about her condition.
Two more cubs, who were found by a shepherd at the Touran wildlife refuge in Semnan on December 2, appear to be healthy and there have been no reports of serious health issues. They were named Azar and Touran. Their parents have not been identified so far.
The Asiatic cheetah is a subspecies of the cheetah and is slightly smaller and lighter than its African counterpart.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global conservation body, has said that Iran is the world’s last stronghold of this critically endangered species.
It has long been considered one of the symbols of Iran – even the country’s map looks like a cat – and has been featured on the national team’s football kits, including during the 2022 World Cup.
Some officials have estimated that as few as 20 animals are left in the wild in Iran, down from an estimated 100 in 2010.
The world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah once roamed habitats from the eastern reaches of India to Africa and beyond.