From Gary Strieker
YAZD PROVINCE, Iran (CNN) -- The wild Persian ass have long been celebrated in art and literature. But unless a desperate effort succeeds to save its dwindling numbers, the animals could completely disappear in Iran.
Like mirages in the desert, they quickly vanish at the approach of humans. The Persian wild ass has learned that such retreats are the best way to stay alive.
On his motorbike, a government game guard keeps a close watch on a small herd. Poachers will chase and kill them, said Seyed Najman Din, a 28-year veteran of the department of environment. There used to be so many, now so few.
No more than 400 of these animals still survive on the planet. And now they have become a symbol of wildlife conservation in Iran.
In the chaotic years following the revolution in 1978, outside the political turmoil of the cities, uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction devastated wildlife across this country.
In a short time, 90 percent of the wild ass population was lost. The survivors now are restricted to only two sustainable populations in widely separated reserves.
But four years ago the government launched a special rescue project for the wild ass, capturing a few of the animals and transferring them to a fenced enclosure near Yazd.
Akbar Hamadanian, the project director with the department of environment, admits they made some mistakes in their operations. Some of the animals have died.
Striving to avoid extinction
But this program is the first time in Iran that they have experimented with wild capture in this manner. And the six animals in the enclosure are now breeding successfully and could help to save the wild ass from extinction.
In a few years, program officials plan to release this herd into a large protected reserve beyond its enclosure, hopefully establishing a third wild population of the endangered animals.
The director said the high desert terrain is perfect for them, and there is widespread support for wildlife protection among the people in the region, especially for the wild ass.
Seyed Najman Din thinks the wild ass has a future in Iran, if the government and the people join together to protect it.
The Persian wild ass is only one of six subspecies of the Asiatic wild ass that was once common across central Asia and the Middle East. The Syrian subspecies is already extinct.
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