Wetland birds: A conservation priority for Iran

Wetlands are considered as environmental lifeline giving an opportunity to fisheries, climate mitigation, efficient water supply for crop productivity, recreational activities and for their significant role in maintaining the delicate ecological balance. However, the health of these valuable ecosystems is being increasingly threatened due to severe anthropogenic pressures exerted through agriculture, industrial and infrastructure developments, rapid urbanization, untreated urban waste water discharges, non-judicious exploitation of wetland resources and their poor management around the planet. Furthermore excessive diversion of water for agricultural purposes, uncontrolled inflow of wastewater, sewage, and solid wastes from both industrial and domestic sources into the wetlands, and using up wetland vegetation for food, fuel, fodder and fertilizer purposes are additional anthropogenic activities that have significantly reduced areas of wetlands; specifically in developing and under developed countries where conservation of wetland ecosystems are not widely practiced.

Iranian wetlands and aquatic ecosystems are considered to be important natural resources having significant role in maintaining ecological balance and biodiversity, natural mitigation of climate changes and in terms of biosecurity with reference to drought or flood control from a regional and/or global perspective. The Ramsar convention held in 1971 at the coastal city of Ramsar in Iran constitutes the global slogan of ‘wetlands for our future’ as the tagline for global wetland conservation initiatives. Iran comprises of 250 wetlands constituting ~2.5 million hectares; however, only 22 of them (8.8%) representing an area of1,481,187 hectares have been registered under the Ramsar Convention so far. These wetlands are distributed in different parts of Iran with nine within interior provinces, seven along the coastal line of Caspian Sea, five along coastal line of Persian Gulf, and one along the coastal line of the Oman Sea. In addition, there is one more frontier wetland known as Hamoon-Hirmand wetland located between Iran and Afghanistan.

Source:  Google Images

Now 13 out of the 22 (59%) Iranian wetlands registered under the Ramsar Convention, have been included in the Montreux List. In terms of the quantity and area occupied they constitute ~59 and 41% respectively of the Iranian wetlands. The 48 wetlands from 27 countries that are now included in the Ramsar Convention-Montreux Record (Red List); Greece, Iran and Czech Republic constitute the highest number of endangered wetlands.


Biodiversity of wetland species of Iran 1

Iranian wetlands serve as habitats for over 140 species of migratory and resident birds constituting 30% avifauna of Iran. About 63 species of local birds nest and breed in these wetland ecosystems and around 77 species reside in these primary habitats during the winter and autumn. Recently 20 wetland avian species have been reported to be threatened with the dangers of eventual extinction as their numbers have depleted critically below that necessary for maintaining healthy and sustainable populations. It is estimated that between 1-2 million aquatic and shore birds pass through the Iranian wetlands during the winter. The Iranian wetlands are pristine habitats for a number of different species of ducks, geese, swans, cormorants, pelicans, grebes, herons, egrets, kingfishers, black-crowned night-heron, great bittern, greater and lesser flamingoes, ibises, spoonbills, storks, cranes, oystercatchers, rails, crakes, gallinules and coots to name only a handful. The marshy and swampy areas adjoining wetlands have rich habitats for different pheasants and other ground nesting birds and the ospreys and other raptors frequently visit the wetland areas for preying upon different aquatic birds and their chicks and wetland fishes.


Biodiversity of wetland species of Iran 2

An overview of the current situation of the Iranian wetlands (protected, non-protected and international) indicates that numerous factors as mentioned below have caused the decrease, drying, destruction and loss of vulnerable wetland areas. The factors include:

  1. Lack of improved management indices
  2. Poor management
  3. Lack of consistent and reliable data on the local wetlands
  4. Soil erosion
  5. Sedimentation
  6. Flooding
  7. Drought
  8. Deterioration of wetland soil physical, chemical and biological characteristics
  9. Poor land use and management (construction of dams and implementation of developmental projects like building surface infrastructure in the watersheds areas or in the environmentally sensitive coastal-marine areas, farming and aquaculture e.g. shrimp farming, oil exploration in coastal wetlands etc.)
  10. Non-judicious exploitation (illegal fishing and/or poaching, issuing hunting license without any serious attention towards long term wetland conservation plans, promoting tourism along or within wetlands, indiscriminate use of wetland’s water, using wetlands as agricultural water repositories,  introduction of exotic species etc.)


Anzali Lagoon, Guilan Province

Einak Wetland, Guilan Province

Einak Wetland, Guilan Province

Gandoman Wetland, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province

Gavkhoni Wetland, Isfahan Province

Gavkhoni Wetland, Isfahan Province

Although Iranian wetlands have a spectacular diversity of water birds including both the resident and annual migratory species that visit the country on their long journey to tropical and sub-tropical destinations. However, in spite of this spectacular biodiversity observed across wetlands in Iran, the future of the avian species does not look too rosy due to unrestricted poaching and illegal capture of birds by the local poachers. A number of the local wetlands are seriously threatened with the extinction of rare and endangered local bird species. Poor economic development in the distant rural regions with fewer opportunities of regular employment has pushed several men into the vicious cycle of poaching. Although Iranian authorities are doing their best to reduce poaching and capture of these precious bird species; however, the ground realities are that the situation has been deteriorating over the time. The environmental and conservation agencies in the country have far less personnel available in the job than that what is needed to deal with the situations effectively. Conservation priorities have often been misplaced due to the dire need for the local infrastructural developments and constructions works that has damaged several wetland areas and the birds have shifted their range to deal with the challenges of their fragmented habitats.


Ghorigol Wetland, West Azarbaijan Province

Hamoon Frontier Wetland, Sistan & Balochestan Province

Hamoon Frontier Wetland, Sistan & Balochestan Province

Mighan Wetland, Markazi Province

Mighan Wetland, Markazi Province

Shadegan Wetland, Khozestan Province

Lack of education and awareness in the remote rural region and forest fringes as well as poor economic situations have been an important factor promoting the poaching and illegal capture and trade of wetland birds in the country. To make the conservation efforts to reach desirable effect, it will be important to reduce the anthropogenic footprints on the fragile wetland ecosystems. Unless the economic situation of the local rural communities is substantially improved the challenges of the conservation will be considerable for protecting the different endangered and vulnerable wetland avian species. With improvements of the local resident communities the anthropogenic pressures on the wetland will go down considerably. More vigilant and stringent monitoring and surveillance of the wetland areas and detailed maintenance of record of the population dynamics of different avian species of the region will be necessary. Modern conservation management, collection and storage of detailed survey data on the wetlands and proper training and education of the personnel for the environmental protection and conservation agencies will also be necessary to empower them in tackling the ground situations more effectively. The government needs to allocate specific funds for the purpose and the involvement of different stakeholders such as the government, non-government organizations, local rural residents and community members, public and members of the conservation and environment protection agencies. It will be important for all of them to come together on a common platform to design some long term and sustainable management plan or policy for efficient and effective conservation of the avian members surviving in the Iranian wetlands.


Natural Lake in Kamalmahalleh Rurar, Shaft County, Guilan Province

Biodiversity of Iranian Wetlands 3

Selkesar Wetland located just below the Anzali lagoon, Guilan Province

Biodiversity of Iranian Wetlands 4

Photo credits: Peiman Zandi, Saikat Kumar Basu & Rahul Ray

 

Further readings

The birds of Iran (2015) Available at: http://www.iranian-bird.blogfa.com/cat-73.aspx[Accessed on 4th March, 2015]

Adekola O, Mitchell G (2011) The Niger Delta Wetlands: Threats to Ecosystem Services, their Importance to Dependent Communities and Possible Management Measures. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, 7(1): 50-68.

The Ramsar convention on wetlands (2015) http://ramsar.rgis.ch/cda/en/ramsar-documents-list-ramsar-list-of/main/ramsar/1-31-218%5E7791_4000_0__ [Accessed on 4 March 2015]

Lin T, Xue X, Lu C (2007) Analysis of Coastal Wetland Changes Using the “DPSIR”  Model: A Case Study in Xiamen, China. Coastal Management, 35:289–303.

Kimmel  K. Kull A, Salm J, Mander Ü (2010) The Status, Conservation and Sustainable Use of Estonian Wetlands. Wetlands Ecological Management,18: 375-395.

Behrouzirad B (2006) Challenges and problems of Iranian wetlands and their ecosystem management indicators. 3rd Iranian Congress on Environment Crises and their Rehabilitation Methodology, 27-29 Dec. 2006, Islamic Azad University of Ahvaz-Science and research branch, Ahvaz.

Behrouzirad B (1992) On the Movement of Greater Flamingo in IRAN. zoology in Middles, London.

Behrouzirad B (2004) Diversity of Fish Eating Birds of South Caspian Sea coasts, Proceeding of Fourth International Iran & Russian Conference, Agriculture and Natural Resources” 8-10 September 2004, Shahrekord University, Shahrekord, Iran.

Perils of extinction for several migratory species of birds in Iran

The wetlands of Iran constitute an important destination of several migratory bird species from Europe, and Russia including Siberia, Mongolia, China, Central Asia and Africa. Several species fly unbelievably long distances between the continents and cross over the Caspian Sea to enter the borders of Iran and finally settling into different wetlands, forested areas and river valleys. The two major migration paths that include Iran as transit points are the Central Asian migratory route and the African-Eurasian migration pathway. The inland geographical location of Iran within the Asian continent along with multiple seasons, abundant wetlands (in the form of water bodies like inland lakes, pools, ponds, ditches, swamps, marshlands), plain forests, mountain forests, dry forests, woods, scrubs, river valleys, riverine forests, diverse ecosystems and abundant food sources making it an attractive destination for a large number of migratory bird species from Central Asia, Europe and Africa. Different species of ducks and geese, grebes, pochards, cormorants, bitterns, egrets, cranes, herons, storks, spoonbills, ibis, flamingo, lapwings, phalaropes, coots, plovers, sandpipers, curlews, snipes, terns, common greenshanks, dunlins etc visit Iran as migratory species. In addition different species of raptors such as vultures, falcons and eagles also migrate to Iran following their strong prey base that takes refuge within the boundaries of the nation. On an average, between 2-4 million migratory birds are estimated to pass through Iran every year.

Thus the wetlands and forests of Iran constitute a global hotspot rich with numerous magnificent avian species foraging, nesting and breeding and then leaving at the end of the winter for their home ranges. These areas have traditionally grown into important tourist hubs due to the exquisite natural beauty, relatively pollution free environment, spectacular biodiversity, wild nature and serenity. Several tourists from the major Iranian cities like Teheran flock to these tourist centers to enjoy a glimpse of the natural beauty. However, a section of the tourist and local community members also get together for the purpose of hunting both with and without proper hunting licenses. It is this unprecedented surge of hunting pressure and poaching that has been causing havoc with several migratory species of birds, seriously impacting their population bases while visiting the Iranian wetlands as their winter refuge. Several species such as the Siberian crane, sociable lapwing, white backed vulture etc are migratory species that have been placed under the critical endangered species category by IUCN; while white-headed duck, Egyptian vulture etc have become nearly threatened.

Several local legal and illegal (underground/black) markets have also developed in and round these regions selling meat of wild migratory birds to the tourists and visitors and to the local population as cheap source of animal protein and as an exotic meat. The meat of migratory birds are extremely popular with the tourists as well as locals and are openly served in local restaurants, pubs and hotels; and has also turned into a common food item for the domestic kitchens. Due to high local demand several local youths and tribesmen has changed into poachers and hunters who illegally capture, slaughter and sell the defenseless birds to the middlemen; who then sell it to the local businessmen operating meat trade in the local legal and illegal markets. The worst hit is particularly different migratory species of wild ducks and geese. According to the local agencies approximately 3 out of 4 million migratory birds are illegally hunted by poachers and local hunters; and that these people are rarely arrested or prosecuted. The hunting and poaching pressures on these wetlands and other available refuges of migratory bird species in Iran has gone up exponentially pushing several migratory bird species to the status of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered from not threatened in the span of just last three decades. Furthermore, due to tremendous anthropogenic pressures on the migratory bird habitats by tourists, locals, hunters and poachers; several species are running the risk of extinctions if such activities continue for future decades without any intervention.

The lack of education and awareness among the local and tribal communities in remote corners of the country, poor management and regulations, poor economic development and lack of opportunities for sustainable economic growth on a long term basis, lack of political initiatives and will, local traditions and taboos, social customs, insurgence of unplanned, unrestricted and unmonitored tourism have been some of the socio-economic factors contributing towards the sharp rise in poaching and illegal capture of migratory birds in these regions. The government and non-government agencies in charge of the conservation and protection of the regions are ill equipped, poorly trained and funded to deal with the grim situation. The number of incidents of poaching is way too high for the existing staff members and volunteers working on these projects to handle efficiently and effectively.

They are short of manpower, funding, gears and equipments to deal with the proper survey, study, monitoring and evaluation. They are acutely short staffed in regulating and/or restricting the incidents of rampant poaching and operation of legal and illegal migratory bird meat markets and illegal pet trade centers operating in these localities. Often the poachers and illegal business operators on wild birds have better organized networks, sophisticated arms and instruments than the regulatory agencies. The poor salary structure, harsh job conditions, long working hours and lack of opportunities and incentives do not attract enough quality candidates to apply for these job positions. Due to lack of proper advertisement and initiatives, dedicated and sincere volunteers are also not easy to recruit. The consequence being a poorly trained and severely marginalized force has to operate with their poor infrastructure and facilities in the conservation and protection of huge areas, which become both logically as well as logistically impossible to manage efficiently.  Under these circumstances the future of several migratory bird species in Iran is hopeless and dimensionless and if no appropriate measures are taken at the earliest, several species of migratory birds could be threatened with the dangers of extinction in the not so distant future.

Socio-economic development of the under privileged regions will be important for possible improvements in conservation efforts. It is necessary to establish alternate employment opportunities and economic engagement for people involved in the illegal trade on migratory bird species and poaching activities. Highly organized campaigns will be needed to promote education and awareness among the local populations, indigenous communities, tourists and visitors about the importance of the migratory bird species and their role in maintaining healthy balance of the extremely fragile and sensitive ecosystems. Proper training and funding for the different regulatory and environmental protection and conservation agencies will be necessary to well organize and equip the personnel involved in successfully conducting regular surveys on endangered bird populations; monitoring and surveillance of the sensitive local ecosystems; raids, arrests and conviction of those involved in poaching and illegal trade on wild meat of migratory bird species. Above all campaigns in educating general public making them aware of the impending dangers of the possibility of extinction of the critically threatened migratory bird species need to be emphasized.

Article submitted by: Saikat Kumar Basu and Peiman Zandi

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi

Suggested readings

Ashoori, A., Barati, A., and Reihanian, H.- r. (2007) Recent observations of the Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius at Boujagh National Park, Gilan Province, and Agh Gol wetland, Hamedan Province and its status in Iran. Podoces. Vol. 2(2): 148-150.

Ghasemi, A. Omidi, Z. Mohammadi, G. Barati, A. (2012) Wetlands as habitats for migratory birds (Case study: Agh-gol and Abshineh wetlands). Journal of Environmental Sciences and Technology, 53-54: 31-39.

Khaleghizadeh, A., Scott, D.A., Tohidifar, M., Musavi, S.B., Ghasemi, M., Sehhatisabet, M.E.,  Ashoori,  A.,  Khani,  A.,  Bakhtiari,  P., Amini, H., Roselaar, C., Ayé,  R., Ullman, M., Nezami, B., and Eskandari, F. (2011) Rare Birds in Iran in 1980−2010. Podoces. Vol. 6(1): 1–48.

Web resources:

http://www.iran-daily.com/News/58717.html
http://www.parstimes.com/travel/iran/hunting.html
http://fatbirder.com/links_geo/middle_east/iran.html
http://www.guyanajournal.com/wildlife_conservation.html
http://www.birds.com/blog/wetland-birds-a-conservation-priority-for-iran/

http://observers.france24.com/content/20150120-iran-wetlands-migrating-birds-hunters
http://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/
http://www.birds.com/blog/avian-parks-and-gardens-are-important-conservation-and-education-tools-a-case-study-from-iran/

Avian Parks and Gardens are Important Conservation and Education Tools: A Case Study from Iran

February 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

The global anthropogenic pressure has been quite detrimental to avian populations and with global warming, climate change and environmental pollution several endangered species of birds are on the verge of extinction. In this context, the role of several conservation approaches, like establishment of avian parks or gardens, have significant roles in both entertaining and educating the public about avian life, conservation and avian biodiversity could not be overlooked. Furthermore, several such private gardens have also made important contributions towards conservation of endangered and threatened avian species too. Nowadays, bird’s gardens are recognized as important habitats beneficial for those of endangered species and play a major role in the preservation of wildlife. It is worthwhile to mention that the awareness on varied aspects of bird life and their ecological behaviors, orientation with scientific designing and proper gardening approaches and perusing the principle of ecological landscape criteria are important in designing such exquisite gardens. Until recently, there have been more efforts towards designing and establishing avian gardens in different parts of Iran. Till date, nine such facilities are distributed across 8 provinces, including Tehran (Lavizan, Baghershahr‒Atr-e-sib), Isfahan, Guilan (Rasht‒Mahan Bird’s garden and Astara), Shiraz, Alborz (Karaj), and Hormozgan (Kish Island) Bird Garden. They have all been established with the hope for promoting tourism, for beautification of the tourist centers in Iran and to promote education and environmental conservation.


Fig1

There are several important factors that should be taken into account during the design and development of avian garden or parks, such as: appropriate designing of different sections to facilitate developing the best bird watching landscape, establishment of appropriate bird habitats by growing trees, shrubs and bushes or artificial aquatic habitats, cages and enclosures for catering to the need of different species, drawing a facility plan for the park or garden, analyzing and controlling soil status within the site, ensuring water security, establishing an avian veterinary unit for treating sick and injured birds and special attention to conservation and propagation of different species, regular monitoring and surveillance and maintaining strict sanitary regulations to prevent the outbreak of diseases and infections among the avian members.


(Source: Google Images)

Mahan Bird’s Garden

Mahan Bird Center (as called Mahan Bird’s Garden) is situated in the Rasht city of Guilan Province of Northern Iran (37°20’48.8″N, 49°38’27.1″ E). The construction of the site began 1993and it started welcoming visitors since 2009. The center name ‘Mahan’ has been adopted from the given name of the son of the owner. The center is located in the northeast corner of the city midway between the Rasht and Khomam. The approximate cost of establishment has been estimated ~US $ 100,000 (Khomam News June 25, 2013).  There was no external funding available for the establishment of the center and the major cost of construction and establishment was covered by the management. The owner, Mr. Behzad Mahroo started to think about creating such center mainly due to his personal interest on avian life since he was only 7 years old.  His main objectives behind the establishment of this center links to his intense passion and love for birds for their unique diversity, interesting behavioral patterns and for his emotional attachments towards the conservation of several defenseless species from relentless anthropogenic pressures. With a humble beginning of mere 10 birds, the center soon reached an avian population ~2000 representing an impressive 100 species assigned to over 52 cages and enclosures. The range of species maintained in this center represents ~30% for the local Iranian and ~70% for the exotic bird species. Majority of the avian species included in the center are exotic species collected across the planet. According to the manager, they do not have any immediate plan to have a specialized section of the aviary dedicated to local Iranian or central Asian species. This is mostly due to lack of adequate space and available funding for establishing this specialized section. However, the management prefers to devote the related genera of birds to identical locations due to ecological similarities and/or similarity in their food habits and foraging patterns.


(Source: Google Images)

Among the existing bird species, the following can be mentioned: Peacock or peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria), Fischer’s lovebird (Agapornis fischeri), Silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera), Sun conure (Aratinga solstitialis), Silky fowl (Gallus gallus var. domesticus), Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), Black swan (Cygnus atratus) and Tawny owl (Strix aluco). There are also some woodland mammal species that are kept at the center in a very limited numbers (e.g. Iranian Brown bears found in southern hillside of Alborz Mountains). These mammals are sent to the center by the Iranian Environmental Organization-Rasht for treatment and recovery to good health after being unfortunately threatened, chased or poisoned or being injured in hunting attempts by the local poachers.  At first the center was supposed to occupy an area of 5000 sq m;but during recent years it has reached up to 30,000 sq mspace to accommodate the large avian populations maintained here. The monthly cost of running this center is around US $ 6,000 along with 11 staff members that includes one veterinarian, some experts working in different specialized sections and regular maintenance staff.

The veterinary facilities here are to avail them in time of need for the treatment of sick and injured birds. Despite all the efforts done by the manager, there have been some unfortunate bird deaths in the past due to local disease. However, there has been no report of any bird flu outbreak in the center till date. Majority of the operation fund (~95%) for the center is provided by the management via the owner’s direct investment; however, the remaining is procured through entry fees (25,000 Rial ~73 US cents/visitor). The center operates throughout the week (including formal holidays) between 9 AM-6 PM daily. The center is accompanied with some limited amenities like visitor sitting accommodations and refreshment areas. There is a small cafeteria just next to the water habitat for the swans. The center is not only designed to provide entertainment and education for the public; but also to propagate and rear several endangered bird species and to treat and return injured local species back to nature. In that the centre serves as an important conservation cum rehabilitation center for some designated avian species. There are some proposals for establishing organized breeding centers within the garden in the future.

The average annual number of visitors coming to the center depends largely on the climatic and seasonal factors; but, commonly the center welcomes more visitors during the first half of the year. The center is deeply concerned about the terrible and disastrous conditions of several endangered, threatened and migratory bird species within the local lagoons and wetlands of the Guilan province due to recent incidences of unrestricted poaching, indiscriminate pollution and lack of proper monitoring and surveillance. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts made and/or constraints undertaken to date by the Iranian Environmental Organization the incidences of poaching could not be curbed successfully, significantly impacting the local avian population. The management humbly requests the international communities, non-governmental organizations and bird enthusiasts to kindly support their initiatives against all the odds to contribute in the developmental programs of Mahan Birds’ garden. The center could be reached via Viber (+989112378535) or direct call (+989111313370). The center also has an active Face Book page at: https://www.facebook.com/Rasht.Mahan.Birds.Garden

Photo credits: Peiman Zandi

Article contributed by: Peiman Zandi and Saikat Kumar Basu

References

Khomam News (2013) The effective role of Bird’s garden in attracting Available at: http://khomam-news.ir/

Further readings

Iranian Biodiversity & Wildlife Bureau (2014) An Updated Checklist of the Birds of Iran. Biodiversity & Wildlife Bureau‒Natural Environment Division- Department of Environment

Yazdandad H (2011) A study on species diversity and population fluctuation of birds in Aquatic ecosystem of Khorasan Razavi province, iran. J Animal Environ 3(1):45-58.

Mansoori, J., 2008. [In Persian: A guide to the birds of Iran]. 2 ed., Ketab Farzane Pub. Tehran. 513 pp.

Benson  John  (2003) Environment  ethics.  Translated  by Abdolhossein  Vahabzadeh,  Jahad  Daneshgahi publications, Mashhad, 1st edition.

Alizadeh  Shabani,  A,  McArthur,  L  and Abdollahian,  M.  (2009) Comparing different environmental  variables  in  predictive  models  of bird distribution. Russian J of Ecol. 40(7): 537-542.