By Faranak Bakhtiari

Will endangered Kaiser's mountain newt survive people’s hankering for variety in Noruz?

March 9, 2019

TEHRAN — Kaiser's mountain newt, the world’s most attractive salamander species, confined to western Iran, is driven on the brink of extinction due to habitat degradation as well as uncontrolled overharvesting for national and international pet trade which pace up near the Iranian New Year celebration (Noruz, starting on March 21).

The Kaiser's spotted newt, also known as the Lorestan newt or emperor spotted newt, is a species of stunning colorful salamander, inhabiting western province of Lorestan but is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Noruz marking the beginning of spring have long been celebrated by Iranians, who display live goldfish as a symbol of perpetual life among Haft Seen symbols comprising of seven items beginning with the "S” letter of Persian alphabet.

Whether changes in traditions or hankering for variety has made some to purchase the illegally traded Lorestan newt replacing goldfishes regardless of pushing the precious species toward extinction.

With people’s not resisting their ambition to buy a stunning animal displaying in their Haft Seen table or disregarding the value of rare species not having enough information, has exacerbated the situation making many dealers to earn income through perishing such valuable animal.

Mehrdad Fathi Beyranvand, the provincial department of environment chief at Lorestan province, said that biodiversity in the country requires special protection measures to prevent overharvesting and trade of this popular species.

The world-renowned Lorestan newt is a precious capital which can be used to flourish ecotourism in the region, attracting many enthusiastic environmentalists, he added.

So, the illegal trade and poaching of the salamander have been banned under Iran’s law, he noted, adding, any smuggling of Kaiser's mountain newt near Noruz will be pursued through the judicial system. 

He also said that several workshops and research projects have been conducted to train the locals in order to protect and prevent the smuggling of Salamander.

Accordingly, the DOE provincial forces will stay on duty to constantly monitor the endangered animal’s habitats and prohibit poaching of precious wildlife species, he highlighted, adding, training courses will be held for tourists in order to limit smuggling.

Hunting a salamander will be fined 2 billion rials (nearly $48,000) and smugglers are liable to imprisonment, he concluded.

In national level, serious law enforcement can play a significant role in reducing the overharvesting of the Neurergus species, but the numerous effect of the public participation cannot be neglected, so training courses for informing the public about the wildlife value and warning them not to help dealers hurting the environment, will make a huge difference.

This is while, the precious species is the first creature at risk of extinction also in international illegal pet trade through the internet, as some amphibian enthusiasts are purchasing the colored animals as much as £200.

The demand has been such that the wild population only living in streams, was reduced by 80 percent from 2001 to 2005. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 mature individuals remain.

Illegal wildlife trade is gaining ground on the internet, so all international trade in wild-caught Kaiser's spotted newts must be made illegal.

In this regard, a proposal to ban such trade has been put forward by Iran at the conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

In the international level, many measures including setting up an international database, scientific researches to find solutions to contain illegal pet trade, and collaboration with international law enforcement agencies must be taken to ease the pace of dragging the kaiser species to extinction.

Kaiser’s mountain newt may be found in areas up to about 4,921 feet above sea level. The species, like most newts, is closely associated with water and wild specimens are not believed to stray far from their water sources. 

Generally, Neurergus kaiser is most likely to be found in open patches of oak woodland near streams, though individuals have also been found in other habitats and water sources, including ponds and pools, man-made water reservoirs, and even on the edges of waterfalls.

Most Neurergus species are found only in running water, but the Kaiser’s spotted newt seems able to utilize a wider range of water types. Some individuals have even been found in water troughs used by cattle. During spring floods, newts that inhabit running water may be flushed down waterfalls and into new habitats.

For several months each year, the Zagros experience a dry season, when Kaiser’s mountain newts must undergo aestivation in order to survive.  At this time, newts may be found inactive under rocks, pebbles, and logs.

In the wild, Kaiser’s mountain newts feed on a range of invertebrates, both on land and in water. As an insectivorous species, it takes well to a range of different prey items when offered in captivity.

FB/MQ/MG

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