By Faranak Bakhtiari

Iranian northwestern national parks share incredible biodiversity

November 20, 2019

TEHRAN – The precious national parks of northwestern Iran are the most diverse of any in the country, differing from rainforest to wide shrub lands which share a great biological diversity, this time we will take a quick look at three incredible national parks located in East Azarbaijan province.

To preserve the existing biodiversity over the wide geographic expanse of Iran, four types of areas have been designated for preservation and protection, including, national parks, wildlife refuges, protected areas and natural national monuments. In 1997, the Department of the Environment (DOE) held supervision over 7,563,983 hectares of such areas. By the year 2003, the size of the DOE supervised areas reached 11,791,788.225 hectares.

National park is a designated part of Iran’s environment - including forests, rangelands, woodlands, prairies, water or mountains - that is an outstanding representation of Iranian nature. As such, it is brought under protection in order to permanently preserve its natural ecology and to create a suitable environment for the flourishing of wildlife and the growth of flora under natural conditions.

The national parks currently cover 1,649,771 hectares of the country’s area.

Protected areas also are significantly important natural resources due to its impact on wildlife breeding, preservation of plant life or its natural state. The total area of regions protected is 6,600,601 hectares.

Wildlife refuges also are natural habitats with special climate qualifications, which brought under protection in order to revive wild animals and is stretching to 3,524,181 hectares.

 Arasbaran National Park 

Arasbaran is a large mountainous area stretching from the Qusha Dagh massif, south of Ahar, to the Aras River in East Azarbaijan province. The region is confined to Aras River in the north, Meshgin Shahr county and Moghan in the east, Sarab county in the south, and Tabriz and Marand counties in the west.

Arasbaran protected area measures 78,560 hectares with a circumference of 134 kilometers. The altitude varies from 256 meters in the northern part to 2,896 meters which is the highest elevation in southern part of the area, according to the UNESCO website.

In-between the Caspian, Caucasus and Mediterranean region, the area covers mountains up to 2,200 meters, high alpine meadows, semi-arid steppes, rangelands and forests, rivers and springs. 

A photo of Arasbaran National Park, East Azarbaijan province, Iran

Arasbaran was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1976.

It is home to 215 species of birds, namely the Caucasian black grouse, grey partridge, black francolin, and common pheasant, 29 species of reptiles, 48 species of mammals, notably wild goat, wild boar, brown bear, wolf, lynx, and leopard, and 17 species of fish. 

It was once home to extinct sub-species of Caspian red deer local to the area.

Tulips in Arasbaran National Park

Designed with a wide range of flora and wild trees, Arasbaran forests is the ubiquity of edible wild trees, which grow wild alongside streams, also exotic plant species, such as redcurrant, truffle and herbs with application in traditional medicine significantly add to the ecological importance of Arasbaran region.

 National Park of Lake Urmia

The National Park of Lake Urmia, shared between West Azarbaijan and East Azarbaijan provinces, is home to several precious species and amongst 9 biosphere reserves of Iran in 2013 periodic review by UNESCO.

Thus, with regard to its ecological significance, unique biodiversity and the presence of indigenous communities, Lake Urmia has been recognized as a protected area since 1967 and was designated as a National Park in 1976.

Flocks of flamingos in National Park of Lake Urmia, northwestern Iran

Stretching to 464,056 hectares, the National Park of Lake Urmia consists of approximately 102 islands; Shahi island was historically the lake's largest. However, it became a peninsula connected to the eastern shore when the lake level dropped. Some of the islands have a rich ecosystem due to being out of reach.

The 3,200-hectare national park of Kabudan Island, is a habitat for wild mammals such as rats, urials, and leopards.

Armenian mouflon, Persian fallow deer are among the most common species in the area, while it holds a great share of vegetation and herbs and hosts flocks of migratory birds like pelicans, flamingos, large white-headed gulls and common shelduck.

Lake Urmia, was once the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East. It was home to many migratory and indigenous animals including flamingos, pelicans, egrets and ducks and attracted hundreds of tourists every year who had bathed in the water to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of the lake.

However, decades of long-standing drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures that speed up evaporation as well as increased water demands in agriculture sector shrank the lake drastically. In 1999 the volume of water which was at 30 billion cubic meters drastically decreased to half a billion cubic meters in 2013. Moreover, the lake surface area of 5,000 square kilometers in 1997 shrunk to one tenth of that to 500 square kilometers in 2013.

The lake also hosted diverse bacterial communities, hyperhalophilous phytoplanktons, and notably the macrozooplankton crustacean, the brine shrimp Artemia urmiana.

Kantal National Park

Kantal National Park is located in the northern part of East Azarbaijan province and the international border with the Republic of Armenia, with an area of 7,000 hectares.

The northeastern part of Kantal National Park is recognized as part of the Kiamaki Wildlife Refuge, which has been promoted to National Park in 2011.

There are more than 450 plant species in the region including Juniper, desert poplar, Maple, Celtis australis, wild pistachio tree, European pear, Russian olive, barberry and dog rose.

A photo of Kantal National Park, East Azarbaijan province, Iran

The Kantal National Park is hosting over 350 animal species namely, wild goat, urial, wild boar, brown bear, Lynx, wild cat, jungle cat, fox, jackal and wolves, while being one of the most important habitats of Persian leopards in the country.

In early spring, colorful tulips grow on the slopes of Kantal farms extending their range to amaze the visitors.

And Maharan Waterfall is also one of the unique beauties of the Kiamaki Wildlife Refuge.

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