Mohammadreza Hassankhani, 36, is one of seven rangers in charge of protecting the 1.5 million hectare Naybandan (NAI-ban-don) Wildlife Refuge that sits on the edge of the infamous Dashte-Lut Desert in central Iran, known for being one of the hottest places on Earth.
The park is home to at least 177 types of plants; dozens of birds, including various eagles, falcons, vultures, partridges, herons, the houbara and the Eurasian magpie; many types of turtles and reptiles; and mammals such as wild goats, jackals, mouflons, gazelles, foxes, porcupines, hyenas, and caracals.
The refuge’s most famous resident, however, is the Asiatic cheetah, a 30-kilo cat that can reach 100 km per hour in only three seconds.
In Hassankhani’s words:
“Right now [late April] this whole area is filled with green plants, many used as herbal remedies. There’s even one that cleans the eye. When you put it in the eye, it pulls out any foreign object like a magnet.
“The large animals, though, are difficult to see because right now they are calving. They go to the more secluded areas fearing for the safety of their young.
“But in 20 days there will be so many animals, you’ll see them pass by just looking out the window.
“The Asiatic cheetah is badly endangered. Only about 50 of them are left in all of Iran, and every year three or four them are killed crossing highways. We haven’t been able to photograph [using trap cameras] a female cheetah for two or three years now. No one knows where the females are. If someone manages to photograph one, the news would be like a bomb.
“Leopards used to roam all over Iran, but they were all hunted. We were sure they were wiped out. But then two years ago a camera caught one. That was a huge shock.
“My shift is six days long and then I go home [to Naiband, 33 km away] for three days. There’s only one other officer here. Total silence. There’s local TV and a radio telephone, but no Internet. No air conditioning because the power is from solar panels.
“Much of the time there’s nothing to do. You can really go mad from loneliness. And I’ve been here for 15 years! I think most people would go mad if they did this even for a month.
“We carry guns but we’re only allowed to use them in self-defense. Otherwise you could go to jail for a long time and pay blood money [to the family of the deceased] for the rest of your life.
“Imagine that. You’re supposed to confront armed poachers but can’t shoot unless they are about to kill you. Might as well not carry a gun at all.
“There’s this one guy who has been in jail multiple times but he keeps coming back. He shoots deer and sells the meat [for the equivalent of $8 USD per kilo]. We’ve confiscated his guns, his bikes, and fined him too. But the moment he gets out of jail, he comes right back shooting. It’s totally illogical. I think for some people it’s a type of madness.”
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Also published on Medium.
Also published on Medium.