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His ministry said the animals had been victims of drought, hunters and car accidents, especially in the country's central desert where the last of them live.

The world's fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of 120 kilometres (74 miles) per hour, cheetahs once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal and beyond.

They are still found in parts of southern Africa, but have practically disappeared from North Africa and Asia.

The subspecies "Acinonyx jubatus venaticus", commonly known as the Asiatic cheetah, is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Iran, one of the last countries in the world where the animals live in the wild, began a United Nations-supported protection program in 2001.

In 2014, the national football team emblazoned an image of the cheetah on its jerseys for the World Cup tournament.

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