TEHRAN, June 26 (UPI) -- Iranian environmental officials are working with the United Nations to help save the Asiatic cheetah.
Though they once roamed much of the Middle East and Asia, there are now only approximately 50 Asiatic cheetahs, all confined the northeast regions of Iran.
That's why the U.N. Development Program has begun working with Iran's Department of Environment to raise awareness of the cheetah's plight and encourage citizens to do their part in protecting the endangered species.
To take on the task of protecting the cheetah, a cousin to the more famous African cheetah, Iran and the UNDP created a project called Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah.
Because the cheetahs occasionally come into contact with Iran's farmers, who graze their sheep on habitat shared with the cheetahs, members of CACP are working to ensure both grazing and environmental protection laws are properly enforced. They're also training local villages on how to deal with encroaching cheetahs, so that revenge will not be the first choice should the predators take a sheep or goat from a local farmer. Farmers who lose livestock will be compensated by the new coalition.
UNDP has paid to outfit Iranian park rangers with night vision goggles to help track the cheetah population, and many of the cheetahs have been tagged with GPS collars.
Maybe most important is the publicity. The UNDP and CACP need the support of the public to successfully protect the cheetah, and have thus created a number of public service announcements.
"Our goal with the production of these PSAs is to capture the hearts of the people and make them realize that they too have a responsibility in the conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah," said Iran's Deputy of Natural Resources and Biodiversity Dr. Ahmad-Ali Keykhah. "The species -- in my opinion -- is the wealth of our nation and we, together, need to do everything in our power to reverse its destiny."
The cheetahs are also known as "hunting leopards," as they were once trained for the emperors and kings of Iran and India to hunt gazelles. The cheetahs have been missing from India and several other neighbors of Iran since the middle of the 20th century.
Earlier this year, Iran's national team did their part in raising awareness, sporting jerseys with an image of the beleaguered yet powerful creature.