Conservation Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Iran, increasingly isolated, threatens to shut down oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, which a US admiral says would be "an act of war." The Israelis, worried about Iran's nuclear program, hint that they are prepared to launch an attack against suspected weapons facilities. US Special Forces, meanwhile, operate inside Iranian borders on midnight missions.

Amid the deafening saber rattling, Western and Iranian wildlife experts are quietly working together to save a rare cheetah from extinction.

The sleek and spotted Asiatic cheetah once roamed widely from India to the Arabian Peninsula. Today, only some 60 to 100 of the cats are believed to remain. They eke out an existence among the jagged peaks and arid plains of the Kuh-e-Bafgh protected area in central Iran.

To save the species' few survivors, US and British conservation groups are supporting a campaign by the Iranian Department of the Environment and the UN Development Programme to track the animals and increase anti-poaching efforts.

"This is a wonderful case of the urgent conservation needs of the cheetah transcending political difference," says Luke Hunter, executive director of Panthera, a New York-based conservation group.

The US has had no ties to the Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. While many European nations maintain some kind of diplomatic relationship with Iran, tensions have been high since the EU imposed new sanctions on Iran this summer. …