With only 50 Asiatic Cheetahs left on the planet, Iranian environmentalists are doubling efforts to protect the world’s fastest land animal.
Capable of reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles) the survival of the beautiful bespeckled feline face the danger of extinction as the threat of hunger due to lack of prey, injury, or death by modern transportation grows.
Members of the National Protection Project for the Asiatic Cheetah say that although the number of cheetahs has stabilized in southern Africa, the animal has almost all but disappeared from northern Africa and Asia.
“The last time our photo traps caught a cheetah here, it was two years ago. But we’re sure they are still in the region,” said environmentalist Rajab Ali Kargar, deputy head of the project.
Iran launched its protection project in 2001 with the support of the United Nations “when we realized Iran was the last country to have any Asiatic cheetahs,” said Hooman Jokar, who heads the program.
It set up a network, now numbering 92 specially trained park wardens, who cover a total of six million hectares (14 million acres) in central and northern Iran.
“Every day, we cover hundreds of kilometers to track wild animals in the park,” said warden Reza Shah-Hosseini, as some 20 gazelles galloped past behind him.
Last year, there were 20 sightings in the Semnan Province.
Cars and farmers remain a threat, however, at least 20 cheetahs have been killed in road accidents over the past 16 years.
In its bid to raise public awareness, the project's most successful move was putting an image of the cheetah on the national football team's jersey during the 2014 World Cup and the Asian Games in the same year.
Since early September, a new campaign, headed by popular actress Hedieh Tehrani, has raised some eight billion rials ($200,000, 170,000 euros) in just over a month as part of efforts to relocate farms in order to reduce confrontations with the cheetah.
There are also hopes for a cheetah couple held in captivity in one of Tehran's biggest parks, Pardisan. A first pregnancy failed, but the wardens say it is a positive sign that they are mating.