Friday, 14 June 2013

Persian leopard conservation in Iran

Research of conflict between villagers and leopards is vital in Iran for improved conservation

Courtesy of Igor Khorozyan, PhD, Department of Conservation Biology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany. 

June 2013. The Persian leopard is a globally endangered big cat that survives mainly in Iran. There are an estimated 500-850 leopards left in Iran, and Golestan National Park, located in north-eastern Iran, is an important habitat for Persian leopards.

The largest population of this highly elusive predator, estimated through camera-trapping as 23-42 individuals or 2.63 individuals/100 km2, is documented in Golestan National Park. This protected area covers 874 km2 and is comprised of lush humid forests in the west, dry grasslands in the centre and east, and parched semi-deserts in the south.

High mortality
Being apparently healthy, the local leopard population still suffers from high mortality caused by conflicts with people living in villages around Golestan and occasional kills on the Asian highway that bisects the park in the south.

In early 2013, a project was launched by a team from University of Göttingen (Germany), in cooperation with Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (Iran) with the financial support of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (UAE) to survey local villages, to understand the scale and pattern of human-leopard conflict and to reveal trends in local knowledge and attitudes.

Conflicts are more widespread than previously thought - leopards and wolves
After surveys in all 34 villages around Golestan were finished, it became evident that leopard attacks on domestic animals are confined mostly to the western part of the park covered by dense forests. In grasslands and semi-deserts, the dominant and trouble-making predator is the wolf, but two villages still reported leopard issues. Dogs and 1-2 year-old cattle are most frequently taken. Shepherd dogs are widely used to patrol grazing livestock, but they are only seldom properly trained and so they often provoke leopards into attacks instead of repelling them. In leopards eyes, a dog is as tasty as a calf.

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