»
»
Conservation of the Persian Leopard Project in the Golestan National Park
Conservation of the Persian Leopard Project in the Golestan National Park

The Conservation of the Persian Leopard Project in Golestan National Park was conceived and carried out to serve as a model for community engagement in the conservation of flagship species in Iran. Years of conservation efforts by organizations officially in charge of preserving Iran’s nature, through physical protection have only managed to protect small parts of the country’s valuable habitat and wildlife.  Today, conservation managers around the world realize that  this method of conservation,  based on preventing people from benefitting from the resources of the parks, has reached a deadlock. A more effective form of conservation is to involve the local communities by creating the required infrastructure for their participation. Golestan National Park, as the first national park of Iran and a world biosphere reserve, faces many problems and threats. For one, poaching has inflicted serious damage to this precious national park. Following the extinction of the Persian lion and Caspian tiger, the Persian leopard is the largest feline in Iran. As such, conservation of the leopard exemplifies the Iranian people’s will and determination to conserve their country’s remaining wildlife. Together, the Persian leopard and Golestan National Park represent a perfect combination for creating a proper model of conservation through local participation and engagement.

First Phase of the Study

In the initial stage of the project, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) surveyed the existing population and conditions of leopards in the Park.  The Foundation also assembled an overall picture of the threats and problems facing this national park.  PWHF utilizeded 40 remote camera traps to determine the leopard population. The Park consists of two different natural zones: a forested area and a semi-arid zone. For camera trapping purposes, the forest zone was divided along the Asian Highway into two parts, one to the north of the highway and one to the south, and the semi-arid zone was treated as a third section. During this five month phase of the project, the group installed camera traps at 83 different locations. Soon after they were installed, some of the cameras were stolen. This fact in itself was, indicative that there was considerable illegal traffic in the Park. To cope with this problem and to learn more about the illegal traffic in the park, PWHF began identifying the main local hunters in the area, with the help of Park management and local associates. Once contacts were made and trust was established, the Foundation began recruiting some of the local hunters to assist in installing the camera traps. This was the first step, however small, in getting local people engageed in conservation activities.

For more information on how this part of the project was done and its findings and achievements, you may refer to the (Final Report of the first phase) of the project.

 

Studying motivations for poaching in the Golestan National Park

A major finding of the initial research is that poaching constitutes the most serious threat to the Park and to the leopard, as it depletes the latter’s prey. This emphasizes the need to carry out the other stages of the study and to draw a more complete picture of the threats and means of coping with them. To find out more causes of and motivations for poaching, PWHF has designed a sociological research project and conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with the local hunters and park personnel. At the moment,the study  is being broadened by including other groups and interviewing them.