By Farnaz Heidari

Vague, imprecise ecosystem, wildlife management approaches in Iran

January 24, 2018

In the early 1800s, bird expert Alexander Wilson watched a single migrating flock of passenger pigeons darken the sky for over 4 hours. He estimated that this flock was more than 2 billion birds strong, some 386 kilometers long, and 1.6 kilometers wide.

Beginning in 1858, passenger pigeon hunting became a big business. In 1878 one professional pigeon trapper made $60,000 by killing 3 million birds at their nesting ground. On March 24, 1900, a young boy in Ohio shot the last known wild passenger pigeon. By 1914 the passenger pigeon had disappeared forever. Is it possible to happen for gulls too?

Fifty years ago, beautiful Mediterranean gull seemed to be dwindling towards eventual oblivion, but recently its numbers have staged a remarkable recovery. This species spreads patchily in the coasts of Caspian Sea too. It is tricky bird to find among large numbers of more common gulls in some plumages, but breeding plumage adults are highly distinctive. 

How could a species that was once common become extinct in only few decades and how could a species that was once rare become abundant? The answer is interaction between human and species. Unfortunately, human is considered as the main reason for the extinction of most species. Some species become extinct and some not. But traces of human in this process is remarkable.

Eventually, all species become extinct or evolve into new species, but humans have become the primary factors in the premature extinction of more and more species. Conservation biologists estimate that every day at least 50 (and perhaps as many as 200) species become extinct because of human activities and the debate is due in part to the strong unwitting exploitation and even emotional attachment to wildlife that many people have. Please do not forget: unwitting exploitation and emotional attachment can do harm to vulnerable wildlife.

We conserve what we love

Aldo Leopold was a famous American ecologist, conservationist and environmentalist. He said: "The last word in ignorance is the person who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" … If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part of it is good, whether we understand it or not… Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left."

The high ambition of wildlife conservation in Iran was driven by concern over long-term populations' dwindling. Some of Iranian experts agreed to pursue efforts to go further because the common sense has been confirmed solid effects of worrying about losing a few more species. Persian leopard, Asiatic cheetah, great bustard, Iranian ground jay, marsh crocodile, loggerhead turtle, or some unknown animals or even plants in Iran becomes permanently endangered because of human activities. Most of conservationists fell under the spell of Iran's rich biodiversity but harsh conditions also offer a less uplifting lesson. The hardship of Iranian conservationists still didn't pay off, but they of course want to help it out. In fact, hordes of Iranian people pretend loving the environment but just handful of those environmentalists come up with a survey scheme. 

Some believe that each wild species has an inherent right to exist. This view is based on the principle that humans have an ethical obligation to prevent premature extinction of wildlife by saving their habitats and not disrupting the complex ecological interactions that sustain all life. But the truth is we have to conserve wildlife because of the economic, medical, scientific, ecological, aesthetic, and recreational values of all species. 

A real extinction crisis

Still some people question the existence of an extinction crisis caused by human activities. These people point to several problems in estimating species loss. We have to accept that urgent detailed estimations are needed to confirm extinction crisis but let's go further, even capable biologists and conservationists don't contend that their estimates are precise enough to make a firm prediction. Instead, they argue that there is ample evidence that we are destroying and degrading wildlife habitats at an increasing rate and that our actions certainly lead to a significant loss of species, even though the number and rate vary in different parts.

Wild species status in Iran

The book of complete fauna of Iran (2005) described 168 species of mammals, 514 bird species, 199 reptile species, 20 species of amphibians and 173 fish species. As the author said seventy of species or subspecies covered in this book are listed as globally threatened in the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which comprises 34 mammals, 15 birds, 12 reptiles, two amphibians and seven fishes. But this list is not complete because e.g. there are more examples of reptiles that didn’t assess in IUCN Red List. We still have not enough data then the result is crystal clear.  

The researchers have to run more assessments on both scales (national and local). If enough force is applied, conservation also will be going ahead in Iran. These underlying studies can lead to other more direct works. There are three main approaches to managing wildlife and protecting biodiversity. The species approach in Iran is highly addressed because Department of the Environment (DoE) focuses on it. Ecosystem approach and wildlife management approach are unknown in Iran despite their benefits. 

The ecosystem approach aims to preserve balanced populations of species in their native habitats, establishing legally protected wilderness areas and wildlife reserves, and eliminate or reduce the population of nonnative species. The wildlife management approach also manages game species for sustained yield by using laws to regulate hunting, establishing harvest quotes, developing population management plans, and using international treaties to protect migrating game species which are not being adopted in Iran. Most conservation biologist and wildlife scientists contend that the approach of DoE has not been changed during the last decades and it may cause severe losses too. The truth is that current approach has had virtually no impact in the overall environmental and economic development. We should change our approaches, not just because of wildlife conservation but also for economic values of wildlife.  

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