Iran’s prehistoric Hyrcanian Forest still unknown to many

November 29, 2019

TEHRAN – Iran’s UNESCO-registered Hyrcanian Forest (also known as Caspian Forest), dating back some 50 million years, is a unique place that is still unknown to many.

Spanning from the south of Azerbaijan to about 850 km eastward to the provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan, the Hyrcanian forests are witnesses of the ancient forests of the world since they have survived between 35 and 50 million years, Ramezan-Ali Qaemi, the director of the World Heritage in Golestan, told Spain’s Agencia EFE in an interview which was released on November 28.

“There were similar forests in Europe and in areas of the former Soviet Union, but during the Ice Age, they were completely lost. So that it could be said that the Hyrcanians are the oldest (forests) in the world,” Qaemi noted.

According to UNESCO, these forests are between 25 and 50 million years old. Their surface area was reduced during the Quaternary Period's dramatic climate changes and glaciations, and expanded again when the temperatures stabilized.

“Its extension is still considerable, blanketing around two million hectares of rich fauna and diverse flora,” the Iranian expert added.

“The species of plants and animals present in this ecosystem are incomparable with Europe.” Perhaps 100 hectares of the forests of Europe are comparable to one hectare of this forest.”

UNESCO has documented the existence of over 3,200 vascular plants and 58 species of mammals, including the iconic Persian panther and endangered wild goat.

The fact that there are carnivorous at the top of the food chain, such as leopards, implies that there are also herbivores and that ecosystem is appropriate for a range of species to thrive, Qaemi added.

Among the meat-eaters are also wolves, caracals (wild cats) and golden eagles. And highlights also include lushes flat-leaved species of trees, which according to Qaemi, offer a genetic stock of these tree-types which have medicinal properties.

Due to its isolation, the areas now protected by UNESCO are home to many endangered and endemic plant species at a regional and local level.

“One of them is the yew, a conifer native to the region and whose extract is used to cure some cancers,” Qaemi said.

“Mediterranean cypress, with their elongated branches, are also used as medicinal plants. As for animals, tigers and lions would have roamed the forest in the past, but have since disappeared.”

The UN cultural body earlier in July designated the vast woodland as a World Heritage site, making it the second such Iranian natural site after Lut Desert, which was granted the tag in 2016.

According to UNESCO, the forest contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. It also contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Iran has always been a big player on the world cultural heritage scene, with 22 registered sites including the main square of Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid dynasty, and the Achaemenid Empire's architectural gems of Persepolis.

AFM/MG

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