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Comments upon bears in Iran

Mag. Bernhard Gutleb, IWN Austria
Abstract for the 11th International Conference on Bear Management & Research, Gattlinburg, Tenessee, U.S.A. / 19.-24.4.1998

Within the International Bear Association IBA almost nothing is known about the distribution of bears in Iran. In "The Status and Conservation of the bears of the world" from Christopher Servheen it is estimated, that small numbers of brown bears may still remain in Zagros and Elburz mountains, present status unknown. The western edge of the Asiatic black bear range was thought to be Afghanistan and southwest Pakistan (Pakistani Baluchistan), where he was extirpated about 20 years ago. Through two field trips in 1997 (total 5 weeks) and contacts with specialists in Iran the author was able to collect data of bear species in this big country.

The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is found on the northern slopes of the hole Elburz mountain range (Caspian forest; about 900 km long and 50-100 km wide), in Iranian Aserbeidschan and in Zagros mountains, a total area of about 200.000 kmē out of 1.600.000 kmē of Iran. He prefers forested area with nearby grassland and reaches his highest densities in remote parts of the Elburz mountains with dense, deciduous forest (Fagus orientalis, Quercus castanifolia, Carpinus betulus). No good estimation of population size is possible but at least in the northern part of Elburz and in Arazbaran (part of Aserbeidschan) they are quiet numerous. The situation in the rest of Aserbeidschan and in Zagros mountains seems less promising, mainly due to deforestation and heavy human pressure. The bear is protected by law and of no value to local people as they do not eat its meat due to their Islamic religion. Sometimes problems with damages on sheep and goats occur.

The Asiatic black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) was thought to have become extinct in southeastern Iran in the late 60-ies, but was "re-discovered" in 1973. In bear-literature nothing can be found about this occurrence. He survived in the southern parts of the Province Kerman, in Hormozgan and Iranian Baluchistan, an area of about 50.000 kmē. Within this predominantly arid zone, the black bear is found in remaining forested areas and near permanent water supply. For years cubs were killed regularly by farmers when they were seen to climb date palms. In some remote areas the black bear survived until today, but though he is protected by law and "Haram" (forbidden to eat for Muslims) his number dropped remarkably to about 10-20 individuals. In the last five years no bears were seen, but footprints were observed. Without research and special management measures this westernmost population of black bear in the world might be extirpated soon.