By Faranak Bakhtiari

Semnan Habitat where endangered species depend on to survive

September 29, 2020 - 18:12

TEHRAN – Semnan province, hosting 16 percent of the country’s protected areas and 30 percent of the plant and animal diversity, is considered a refuge for endangered species, such as Asiatic cheetahs and Persian zebras.

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.

Protected areas in Semnan province stretch to 2.3 million hectares and in total between 15 to 20 thousand hectares of natural areas are under the DOE’s supervision.

Garmsar Desert National Park and Turan Wildlife Refuge are the two most important protected wildlife reserves in the world which are both located in Semnan province.

Three National Parks including Kavir National Park, Turan National Park, and Sidova National Park, two wildlife sanctuaries in Khosh Yeilagh and Turan and two protected areas in Parvar, and Turan, five no-hunting areas are located in the province.

These areas are in fact a natural exhibition of rare wildlife species such as Asiatic cheetah, Persian leopard, Persian ground jaya, Persian onager, Asiatic mouflon, sand cat, chinkara, and various plant species.

Among the wildlife species, the Asiatic cheetah and the Persian onager are among the valuable and endangered species, and Semnan province is known as one of the best habitats of these two rare species in the world.

Unique wildlife sanctuaries

Khar Turan National Park or Touran Wildlife Refuge, situated in the southeast of Shahrud city, stretches to 1,400,000 hectares while being the second largest reserve in the country after Naybandan Wildlife Refuge.

Defined a protected area in 1972, the region also received the title of biosphere reserve by UNESCO and ranked the second biosphere in the world after the Serengeti ecosystem (a geographical region in Africa).

A wide range of flora and fauna, valuable genetic resources are seen in the area, more importantly, the precious species of Asiatic cheetah inhabit in the area.

Some 41 species of mammals, 167 bird species, 42 reptile species, and 2 amphibian species have been identified in Touran.

Kavir National Park with an area of 4,000 square kilometers is a protected ecological zone stretched over the provinces of Semnan, Tehran, Qom, and Isfahan.

Lying on the western edge of Iran’s major desert (Dasht-e Kavir), the region reveals the natural beauty of the mysterious desert and displays a great share of wildlife species. The region’s astonishing biological characteristics have made it be known as Little Africa or Iran’s Serengeti.

Kavir National Park is home to native goats (Capra aegagrus), sheep (Ovis Orientalis), striped hyenas, Indian wolves, gazelles, the rare Asiatic cheetahs, and the Persian leopards.

Valuable species come first

The world's fastest mammal, capable of reaching speeds of 120 kilometers per hour, Asiatic cheetah once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal, once their numbers have stabilized in parts of southern Africa, but they have practically disappeared from northern Africa and Asia, and is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 50 believed to remain in Iran.

Also, small populations of Onagers are found in Touran National Park. Bahram-e Goor Protected Area in Fars province and Sarakhs in North Khorasan province are two famous habitats of the subspecies in Iran. Sadly, onager populations have shrunk dramatically because of hunting as well as overgrazing by domestic animals such as sheep, goats, and camels. Onagers are hardy animals and can survive in bleak desert areas.

Onagers disappeared from western Iran in the 1930s but were still widespread in central and eastern arid and semi-arid plains until the 1950s. By the 1980s only four subpopulations were left. However, no reports of the animals have been heard of in Kavir National Park since 1986 and none in recent years from the once trans-boundary Sarakhs subpopulation along the border to Turkmenistan.

Environmental-friendly province

Fatemeh Saeed Mohammadi, an environmentalist, said that “Semnan is a unique province in terms of geographical, and climatic diversity, which is enough to introduce the province as an environmental-friendly province not only to Iran but also to the world.

The existence of forests, deserts, and mountains together in the province created such extraordinary geographical conditions that are less seen in the country and the world.”

“The transfer of three cheetahs including Koushki, Delbar, and Iran to their birthplace in Turan National Park provided the initial conditions for the reproduction of this valuable endangered species.

The successful transfer of the Persian zebras to Garmsar Desert National Park and their reproduction is another evidence of the uniqueness of Semnan province,” she explained.

Two female Asiatic cheetahs, Delbar and Iran, and the male one, Kushki, have lived in the capital city of Tehran for the past few years, and now are living in a fenced area in Semnan.

In 2015, Delbar once became pregnant naturally but sadly lost her cub.

Last year (March 2018-March 2019), she was physically prepared for mating with Kushki, however, possibly due to Kushki’s old age, the two didn’t breed.

Delbar underwent artificial insemination in the current Iranian calendar year (started on March 21), which turned out unsuccessful.

The younger female cheetah named “Iran” which is three years old and her pregnancy possibility is high, is also transferred to the fenced area.

Also, after transferring five Persian zebras from Turan and four from Yazd province to Kavir National Park in 2018, with the aim of re-introducing this species to the region, with three successful reproductions, now the population of this valuable species has reached 12.

Asiatic cheetahs’ population increasing

Amir Abdous, head of the provincial DOE, has announced that twenty-one Asiatic cheetahs have been observed in the province of Semnan since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21).

Emphasizing that the plan to preserve the cheetahs in Iran is to protect it in its natural habitat, he said that the success achieved in the reproduction of the endangered species in their habitat is greater than that of the captive breeding projects.

Noting that the most important threat to cheetah habitats is the presence of livestock and herding dogs, he highlighted that currently, about 500,000 hectares of the 1.5 million-hectare area of Turan - including the entire 100,000-hectare area of Turan National Park - have been cleared of livestock, and a safe haven has been created at the Turan Biosphere Reserve for cheetahs.

According to the agreement between the Forests, Rangelands, and Watershed Management Organization and the DOE, only one-fifth of the protected area and wildlife sanctuaries can be evacuated from livestock as a safe area for cheetahs.

Fencing and reducing speed on Tehran-Mashhad road last year, with the aim of preventing road accidents, is another measure taken to help improve the quality of natural habitat in Turan National Park, Abdous said.

Animal species that number less than 50 in the wild are considered extinct, and now the number of Asiatic cheetahs in the country is less than 50, but all efforts are being made to prevent the extinction and reach the number to over 50, he stated.

"Preservation and reproduction of the remaining genes of endangered species are one of the priorities of the DOE, and for this purpose, while prioritizing the preservation of the species in their natural habitat, serious attention should be paid to the protection of genes."

He went on to note that the center for research, reproduction, and release of Persian zebras in Kavir National Park, is unique in the country and even in the region, which is designed and built based on the local knowledge of experts, with a credit of 2 billion rials (around $48,000 at the official rate of 42,000 rials).

In addition to research, ecological functions, and reconstruction of genetic resources, the research center has the potential of being a tourist attraction and can increase the number of visitors as one of the natural attractions of this national park, he concluded.

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