By Faranak Bakhtiari

Where is the biodiversity capital of Iran?

June 12, 2021 - 18:20

TEHRAN – Semnan province, north-central Iran, is considered the biodiversity capital of the country.

The province is home to 160 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 40 reptiles, 6 amphibians, and in addition, all eight species of cats in our country's climate inhabit the region and none of them became extinct, Amir Abdous, head of the provincial department of environment, said.

Referring to the Asiatic cheetah as the most important and popular endemic species, he said that Turan National Park is the only breeding habitat of cheetahs in Iran and the world. Therefore, this biosphere is of great importance.

17% share of protected areas

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 now, the size of the DOE supervised areas reached 18.5 million hectares.

Protected areas in Semnan province stretch to 2.5 million hectares, which 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.Protected areas in Semnan province stretch to 2.5 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.

The two habitats of Kavir and Turan National Parks are considered biosphere reserves and have been registered in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), Abdous said.

He added that there are 14 biosphere reserves in Iran, two of them are located in the biodiverse province of Semnan, highlighting that Semnan province hosts 17 percent of the country’s protected areas.

Valuable species come first

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.

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 transboundary Sarakhs subpopulation along the border to Turkmenistan.

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