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Cheetahs threatened in Iran

Farming and poaching threaten the cheetah population  

By Gary Strieker

DAREH-ANJEEL, Iran (CNN) -- A conservation programme is needed to prevent cheetahs in Iran dying out, experts believe.

The cheetah has been forced out of its hunting grounds by farmers, and the isolated populations are now suffering from inbreeding.

Hossein Mollaie told CNN that in 16 years as a game ranger in Dareh-Anjeel, central Iran, he has seen cheetah three times -- twice they were dead from poachers' gunshots.

In 20 years, the number of the world's cheetah has dropped by more than half. In Africa about 12,000 cheetah survive, but outside Africa the animal is critically endangered.

And the Asiatic subspecies, with its long history of conflict with humans, is confined to a few remote areas in Iran.

Some experts believe only about 40 Asiatic cheetahs still survive in the wild. Others say there must be more, but nobody is sure.

The cheetah is legally protected in Iran and all hunting is prohibited in Dareh-Anjeel and the Iranian government has agreed to co-operate with international experts on a conservation programme.

But Mollaie says the cats are threatened not only by poachers, but also by farmers who bring livestock to graze on the sparse vegetation that sustains the prey animals that the cheetah hunts.

Water and extra food are provided for wild gazelles, sheep and goats by authorities during the drought, which will benefit the entire food chain -- topped by the cheetah.

Despite such help, conservationists say there is no future for the cheetah in Iran unless more help is given.

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