By Faranak Bakhtiari

World Environment Day: Iran outlines plan to protect its rich biodiversity

June 5, 2020 - 20:25

TEHRAN – Because the most important part of wildlife conservation is habitat preservation, the Department of Environment (DOE) has developed several national programs, 10 of which are underway, and 10 others will soon be finalized to implement, Shahaboddin Montazemi, director of the wildlife's conservation office at the DOE told the Tehran Times.

World Environment Day, hosted by Colombia this 2020, is the most renowned day for environmental action. Since 1974, it has been celebrated every year on 5 June, engaging governments, businesses, celebrities, and citizens to focus their efforts on a pressing environmental issue.

This year, the theme is biodiversity – a concern that is both urgent and existential. Recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa – and now, a global disease pandemic – demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which they exist.

World Environment Day has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually. 

Sustainable exploitation of biodiversity a must

“Today, all governments have come to the conclusion that all aspects of human life, as well as growth and development, depend on biodiversity.

All three pillars of biodiversity namely, variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels are important and must be considered to ensure biodiversity preserve; any damage to any of these three pillars will damage the entire biodiversity and pose a serious threat to human life.

Although It is believed that Iran's geopolitical position is the reason for its rich biodiversity, I believe that it is a gift from God,” Montazemi explained.

“Indeed, Iran is not one of the megadiverse countries, like Brazil, India, and Malaysia, but it has habitats with the richest biodiversity.

However, various factors such as sustainable exploitation of biodiversity should come to the center of attention to better protect the country’s biodiversity, to do so, help local communities earn income, and biodiversity can also benefit from local communities’ protection,” he said.

He went on to say that the DOE has taken extensive measures in various areas such as habitat, species, and genetics; four types of areas have been designated for protection, including, 31 national parks, 46 wildlife refuges, 169 protected areas, and 38 natural national monuments.

“Today, we have been able to preserve many species of animals and provide protection; as animal species include 37 species of mammals, 78 bird species, 22 species of reptiles, 6 species of bivalves, and 25 species of fish of inland waters.

The organization's gene bank is also a major step toward the genetic protection of species.”

Wildlife habitat protection the main priority

“What is important in wildlife species conservation is the conservation of species in natural habitat, therefore, the DOE’s main priority is to preserve the country's wildlife habitat.

For the flagship species, several national protection programs have been developed, 10 of which are underway, such as the conservation plans for the Persian leopard and the brown bear. 

Some 10 action plans will soon be finalized for a series of species, which will be announced to the agencies after approval by the expert committee,” Montazemi stated.

More brown bears killed in conflicts

Referring to the brown bear protection plan, he said that “the initial framework of a protection program is based on promoting public awareness, along with reducing conflicts among wildlife species and locals.

We should develop an environment regarding various factors, in which the bears can not only survive but have a desirable life in nature.

Unfortunately, over the past year, we have seen an alarming increase in the slaughter of bears during conflicts with humans, which could be rooted in the encroachment on the habitat of these animals.

And after researches, we realized that land-use changes were the reason behind the conflicts, as in the main bear habitats, some people or farmers, who owned lands, have built small buildings to live and earn income for themselves, therefore, posed a threat to the species habitat.”

“Instead of stopping entering natural habitats and land-use changes, we drive the bears out, unfortunately, he lamented, adding, it is why we also lost Persian leopard in different parts of the country.

When a bear enters the village, it may seem like a simple event, but it can have very bad consequences, so, we need to train the locals on some certain issues like waste management, he noted, adding, many villagers release the waste in surrounding areas, which might attract the animals to the villages,” he added.

He went on to say that “this highly requires training, management, and supervision, local communities are supposed to help us to protect the wildlife because humans are more responsible for conflicts with animals.

Livestock and herding dogs are other causes of animal deaths, which need proper management to be addressed.”

DOE not to give up on Asiatic cheetah reproduction

Pointing to the Asiatic cheetah conservation project as a great success, he stated that a vast majority of locals residing around the cheetahs’ habitats are farmers and livestock owners, who were trained by the NGOs on the protection of the precious species, the importance of cheetahs in the ecosystem, and how to behave with the species.

This has led to good achievements in Persian cheetahs’ habitats, for instance, locals have recently reported the existence of a cheetah family of five members, and kept an eye on the animals to prevent them from road accidents, he explained.

He further called on the media to take steps forward to raise public awareness of wildlife protection and endangered animals.

However, the DOE is still trying to plan for the reproduction of Asiatic cheetahs and does not give up.

Referring to the Cheetah reproduction programs, he said that each plan is initially a proposal and after numerous researches and sometimes investigations it will be implemented.

For instance, we have proposed a plan to capture two male cheetahs living in central Yazd province for captive breeding, but after numerous studies, it was rejected, of course, using them for gene bank is undeniable, he added.

Forest protection needs national unity

In reply to a question on how much the DOE is responsible to extinguish the recent wildfires, Montazemi said that it considerably needs national determination, first people should be very cautious about the forests and pastures due to the high risk of ignition.

A wildfire broke out across several forests and protected areas in four western and southwestern provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr, Lorestan, Kohgiluyeh, and Boyer-Ahmad on May 28.

The fire also swept through Khaeez protected area, measuring 28,000 hectares is one of the main habitats for wild goats in Zagros forests and was burning for almost 6 days.

Issa Kalantari the DOE chief told ISNA that some 27,000 hectares of Khaeez protected area were burnt in the fire.

The whole population must avoid activities that cause a wildfire, and the DOE cannot shoulder the whole burden.

President Hassan Rouhani has obliged all the responsible bodies to join hands to extinguish the fire and many of which came to contain the wildfires. However, in environmental protection, even a single mistake is a lot and can cause irreparable damages, Montazemi stated.

Emphasizing that wildfires should not happen at all, he said that the DOE is not the only responsible body to put out the fire, but people should resist any fire to erupt in forests.

“The wildfire happened during the breeding season when many animals stayed with their babies and could not cross the impassable passages and escape the fire, therefore, many squirrels, birds, and other species were killed in the fire. While loosing even a bird can hurt the ecosystem.

Numerous oak trees turned into ashes, and hundred years should pass to grow an oak tree, and it definitely will come up with dire consequences.

So far, there is no certain evidence whether the fire was human-caused or natural, he highlighted, implying that our investigation team is operating in the area to find out the reason, but it might be related to negligence,” he explained.

Referring to the slow process of firefighting operations and extinguishment, he said that the country is facing a lack of equipment, especially aerial firefighting facilities, which is the leading cause of slow firefighting, impassible areas.

We need to provide a better infrastructure to protect the wildlife, ecosystem, and protected areas of the country by equipping the DOE because currently we are not equipped with any helicopters. 

It is noteworthy that “indeed, every protection measure in the national scale needs a nation to be addressed, but it does not diminish the importance of responsible bodies’ role.”

Media should raise public awareness

He further called on the media to introduce biodiversity value to the public and make people aware of the preciousness of the species.

Environmental protection needs national determination and unity. Public culture should be promoted and prevent them from littering in nature. This might seem very simple but of great importance.

Different sections of society need different training ways, for example, children cannot be trained with methods the elderly are trained, each requires a specific way, and the media can highly support the process, he concluded.


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