May 2007- The first phase of educational project for local students in Bafq Protected Area aiming at increasing awareness about the critically endangered Iranian cheetah has been successfully finished. Started since mid 2006 in 2 phases, the cheetah educational project has been focusing on education of senior high school students about the cheetah and other large carnivores of the area.
As the first step, a network of local stakeholders has been formed in order to collaborate in implementation of educational activities in 2 main fields, students and herders. The students are now able to identify the cheetah as well as other large carnivores, including leopard, wolf and hyena and have learned about the animals’ life and status. As a result of general education for the students, an elite group of 50 enthusiastic students are now chosen by themselves to learn more practically in the second year about the cheetah, visiting the cheetah habitat and helping to share the cheetah knowledge with the other local people.
As another main target group, the herders who possess the highest encounter with the cheetah which sometimes lead to killing the animal are going to be educated about the cheetah. According to surveys done in the area, Bafq Protected Area is one of few areas out of several Iranian cheetah habitats where the cheetahs are surely in direct conflict with livestock and there are a considerable amount of cheetah attacks on domestic animals. On the other hand, most of the livestock killings occur in nighttime darkness when the killer in charge is hardly seen by the herders and since the cheetah is a famous animal among the local people at the moment, most of the kills are related to the animal by the local herders. Accordingly, immediate educational practices are needed to increase the awareness about the cheetah and how to identify the cheetah and other large carnivores in order to prevent eradication of the critically endangered cheetahs.
Located in central province of Yazd, Bafq Protected Area has an area of more than 150,000 hectares with an estimated population of 15 cheetahs. On the other hand, the area has had the highest human-induced mortality during the past decade, at least 1.5 animals per year, mainly due to lack of awareness about the cheetah and the fear of being an enemy to the human and its properties. Aiming at removing incorrect believes about the cheetah, the Bafq Cheetah Educational Project hopes to find sustainable ways to save the flagship creature from extinction with participation of local people.