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«Dr Stéphane Ostrowski WCS September 2010 Wildlife Conservation Society 2300 Southern Boulevard • Bronx, NY 10460 Cover photos: 1. Participants to ...»

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Mission report of a field trip to Iran

23 August - 4 September 2010

Dr Stéphane Ostrowski


September 2010

Wildlife Conservation Society

2300 Southern Boulevard • Bronx, NY 10460

Cover photos:

1. Participants to a workshop on wildlife chemical immobilization, Parvar Protected

1 2

Area, Semnan Province, 25 August 2010.

2. From left to right: Dr. Babak Jourabchian (CACP), Dr. Stephane Ostrowski (WCS),

3 4

Mr. Mohammad Farahdinia (CACP), and Mr. Ali Khani (DoE), discussing the technical aspects of a capture operation of goitered gazelles, Shirahmad Wildlife Refuge, Khorasan Razavi Province, 27 August 2010.

3. Dr. Stephane Ostrowski lecturing on principals of wildlife chemical immobilization, Parvar Protected Area, Semnan Province, 25 August 2010.

4. “Kushki” is the only known Asiatic cheetah currently in captivity, Miandasht Wildlife Refuge, north Khorasan Province, 29 August 2010.

All photographs: Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) and Stephane Ostrowski.

Table of Contents Introduction

Meeting leadership staff of DoE and learning about CACP progresses

WCS input in CACP

Prey-base reinforcement

Databasing and GIS work

Health component in Asiatic cheetah conservation

Science and monitoring

Education and workshops

Visits to protected areas

Touran National Park and Miandasht Wildlife Refuge

Shirahmad Wildlife Refuge

Kavir National Park

Parvar Protected Area and Salouk National Park

Golestan National Park and Dasht-e Naz Wildlife Refuge

Baba Aman recreational area

Other achievements and commitments

Meeting Iranian NGOs

Press conference

Debriefing with UNDP

Further developments


Appendix 1. Summary of daily activities during the mission in the I.R. of Iran

Appendix 2. List of main people met during the mission in the I.R. of Iran

Appendix 3. Protected areas visited and wildlife sighted during the mission to the I.R. of Iran.............. 26 Appendix 4. Asiatic Cheetah Habitats series

Appendix 5. Game Guards Field Notebook

Appendix 6. Chemical restraint of terrestrial mammals from Iran

–  –  –

Introduction The mission I have carried out in Iran between August 23rd and September 4th, 20101 had

four main aims, with emphasis on the first one:

1. Meet the leadership staff of the Department of Environment (DoE) of the Islamic 2 Republic of Iran (I.R.I.) in order to officialize WCS commitment in the second phase of the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) and assess the level of progress of CACP on conservation activities as itemized in the Species Action Plan designed in April 2010 in Gstaad, Switzerland, under the guidance of the Cat Specialist Group of IUCN.

2. Achieve progress in the conservation activities the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has agreed to contribute to: feasibility and technical design of a prey base reinforcement operation in Touran National Park and Miandasht Wildlife Refuge3, landscape-scale mapping of cheetah habitat and gap analysis to detect potential habitats of importance outside protected areas, increasing health expertise connected to the CACP.

3. Deliver four half-day workshops on topics selected by CACP.

4. Visit at least three protected areas within the network of 10 priority areas for the Asiatic cheetah in order to learn about progress on the ground of conservation activities, and provide any technical expertise upon request.

1 The summary of daily activities is presented in Appendix 1.

2 Name, affiliation and occasionally email address of people met during the mission are compiled in Appendix 2.

3 Details concerning protected areas visited and wildlife sighted during the mission are compiled in Appendix 3.

3Meeting leadership staff of DoE and learning about CACP progresses

The mission in Iran was the occasion to officialize the cooperation between the DoE/CACP and WCS. I met Dr. Sadough, the Deputy Head of Natural Environment and Biodiversity Division at DoE as well as Mr. Mohamadi, the Director of Wildlife Office at DoE Tehran. Both officials welcomed me with enthusiasm and encouraged a fruitful collaboration between DoE and WCS. Unfortunately I could not meet Mr.

Mohammadizadeh, Vice-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and also Head of the Department of Environment. I should receive soon a letter from Mr Mohamadi acknowledging the collaboration between DoE and WCS for the second phase of the Asiatic cheetah project.

The mission also offered the opportunity to learn more about the work progresses of CACP. I was very pleased to observe that the Action Plan meeting organized in April 2010 in Switzerland has had a very positive guidance impact on CACP operations. CACP has developed considerable efforts in educational activities (workshops, meeting with local stakeholders, publication of a variety of educative material such as Asiatic Cheetah Habitat Book series [2,000 copies for each cheetah protected areas] and posters), in game guard training and mentoring (organization of professional workshops, publication and distribution of standardized field notebooks, three game-guard mentors employed by CACP and present in protected areas, a consistent and regular information feed-back system put in place), in professional communication (publication and dissemination of newsletters, employment of a media coordinator within CACP team, organization of regular press conferences), in community-conservation (continuing awareness initiatives with local communities with the help of collaborating NGOs), science and monitoring (implement a first large-scale camera-trapping effort in Kavir NP, attempt a transect count for herbivores in Miandasht Wildlife Refuge).

During the current mission, the staff of CACP openly communicated about their results and provided me copies of educational materials4, newsletters and results of camera trapping in Kavir NP. I could also witness while in the field the progress in information feed-back between CACP and game guards (Plate 1).

WCS input in CACP Prey-base reinforcement One of the main technical requests addressed to me by CACP during my mission in Iran was to assess the relevance and feasibility of a goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) 4 Examples of such material are provided in Appendices 4 & 5.

–  –  –

Plate 1. CACP staff (left) meeting in the field with game guards (right) in Touran National Park, Semnan Province, 26 August 2010.

I have visited preferred goitered gazelle habitats in both protected areas and have observed that goitered gazelles still occur in these reserves. However, it was not possible to assess objectively their relative abundance given the shortness of surveys. Yet I noted, almost systematically, the presence of at least one young for each observed mature female, suggesting that reproduction occurs actively in both areas and survival of young animals is relatively high (assuming that the majority of young animals observed were born in spring 2010). Alireza Jourabchian mentioned that goitered gazelles used to be far more abundant in these areas ‘’in the past”, such as “at least 4,000 individuals in Miandasht” alone.

Nowadays the goitered gazelle populations have been estimated at 300-400 and 600 individuals, in Miandasht and Touran, respectively. Main threats affecting gazelle populations in both reserves include overhunting and forage depletion due to overgrazing by livestock. Recently however it seems that overgrazing was to some extent put under better control in Miandasht by controlling more efficiently grazing rights and seasonal 5 pasture rotations (Mr Farhadinia, pers. comm.). In Touran, due to the size of the area 2 (14,000 km ), the easiness of access and the low number of game guards relative to the size of the area to supervise (a total of 25 game guards divided in two groups of 12-13, rotating every 18 days), sustainability of livestock grazing is likely difficult to control.

Rampant illegal hunting still occurs in both areas. Since this threat has been identified as the main cause of gazelle population decline, the DoE will have to implement a significantly higher level of protection in both areas should a gazelle reinforcement operation be considered in the future. As a matter of fact, all attempts, worldwide, at reinforcing existing populations of wildlife without controlling simultaneously the cause of decline of the target population, have failed to achieve long-term population reinforcement. We have also visited the gazelle population of Shirahmad Wildlife Refuge proposed for harvesting. Results of our brief survey (see later) suggest that because of its relative proximity, large population size and management possibilities (see later) this population would accept a reasonable level of harvesting for translocation to other protected areas. To conclude, I have recommended to CACP/DOE that a pilot project aimed first at translocating a cohort of 50 goitered gazelles from Shirahmad to Miandasht could be considered in the near future. I will produce a technical document that will help DoE implement such project.

Databasing and GIS work

CACP expects to base its scientific activities on a centralized database of all confirmed cheetah sightings documented for at least the last 15 years. Such database should also receive some analytical considerations to identify possible trends and highlight coarse demographic features. Apparently CACP has compiled such database but still needs to check the quality of entries. I have asked CACP (Mr. Farhadinia) to provide me with the structure of the database in order for me to check whether an additional level of information could be added to it and evaluate its usefulness for the envisioned GIS gap analysis.

I have visited the staff of the GIS laboratory at central DoE in Tehran to learn about their knowledge in GIS modeling. It seems that the level of expertise of this team is high but mainly focused at mapping efforts. I have discussed with the staff the benefit of a gap analysis for the Asiatic cheetah that would provide predictive clues about important areas to supervise or explore outside protected areas. They did not seem to have any experience in gap analysis modeling but were very eager to learn. I proposed, whenever the database will be completed and thoroughly checked, to invite a GIS specialist from WCS to guide

–  –  –

The work progress has been planned in three main steps:

1. Finalize and review the current cheetah database and probably adjust it to a GIS usage (evaluate databasing effort). Mr. Farhadinia at CACP will send me the database for review as soon as possible.

2. Guide the GIS staff at DoE through a gap analysis modeling, with the help of a GIS experts from WCS (capacity building).

3. Produce priority habitat maps for cheetahs in Iran (mapping) and diffuse modeling results to CACP/DoE and project’s partners.

Health component in Asiatic cheetah conservation The risk posed by diseases on the survival of big cats has recently received more consideration in view of the documented impact of morbilliviruses (e.g. canine distemper virus) on wild carnivore populations. For the second phase of CACP activities, it was collegially decided to include health as an important component to the Asiatic cheetah conservation plan. The first workshop I have provided in Tehran during the current visit aimed at illustrating to DoE the importance of health considerations in wildlife conservation projects. I have also extensively communicated with veterinarian, Babak Jourabchian, who is working on health issues with CACP for the forthcoming 12-14 months. Dr. Jourabchian (son) will translate a number of documents and lectures I have provided to him and use this material to start a series of training sessions for game guards in the 10 priority protected areas identified for cheetahs. In addition to this activity, I have proposed to organize during my next mission a one week intensive training course for two veterinarians and two biologists that would include theoretical lectures and practical trainings. The main goal of such training course would be to constitute a task force that will have sufficient knowledge to perform wildlife chemical immobilization, particularly in emergency situations, health examinations and urgent necropsy investigations. Eventually I will be working with the help of Dr. Jourabchian and a number of other Iranian veterinarians on a guideline document of wildlife diseases occurring in Iran that should hopefully be translated into Farsi when completed.

7Science and monitoring

CACP is very willing to develop science and monitoring activities with the help of foreign expertise. I have extensively discussed with CACP staff about population estimation techniques, particularly for herbivores. Capture-recapture models applied to cameratrapped identifiable individuals may also prove promising to increase our knowledge of cheetah abundance in Iran. Such operations need thorough thinking, careful preparations and relatively large numbers of camera traps. I have also warned that in view of likely small population sizes, high level of dispersal, semi-nomadic behavior of the species and harsh conditions in its habitat this technique may eventually provide robust but imprecise estimates of population sizes or in worst cases only a minimum number of individuals (see Kavir NP).

Concerning cheetah captures for telemetry study, WCS would only play a role of collaborator to Panthera, the likely main partner of CACP for such activities. I repeatedly insisted on the fact that big cat capture is a very technical commitment, which can prove harmful to the animal if not practiced by a thoroughly trained and qualified staff.

Currently no such level of expertise seems to exist in Iran, at least to my knowledge. WCS is willing to invest time and resources at training such staff should serious candidates be proposed for the work.

Education and workshops

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