FORMATION OF AN ACTIVE NETWORK BETWEEN TECHNICAL EXPERTS AND LOCAL ACTIVIST IN SELECTED LEOPARD HABITATS FOR ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES FOR PARTICIPATORY CONSERVATION OF PERSIAN LEOPARD
This project addresses three main issues regarding conservation of a vital population of the Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor as well as its main prey species and habitats in Iran. Leopard is the top predator of large number of habitats in Iran and it is also considered as an umbrella species in which its conservation will result in conservation of a number of endangered and threatened species as well as vast areas of wildlife habitats across the country.
Previous studies on the status assessment of the Persian leopard in Iran (2002-2006: Sanei, 2002; 2007-2011: Sanei et al. in press) signified that there is a possibility that leopard population in Iran is splitting to two Northern and Southern fragmented parts (Sanei et al. 2012). However, being the top predator of the large number of habitats in Iran, the leopard plays an important role in ecological health of these habitats. Furthermore, Iran is known as a stronghold for the Persian leopard in the Middle East which also supports leopard survival in the neighbouring countries through transboundary emigrations (Kiabi et al., 2002; Khorozyan et al., 2005; Khorozyan & Abramov, 2007; Lukarevsky et al., 2007). After extinction of the Persian lion Panthera leo persica and the Caspian tiger Panthera tigris virgata, the leopard is the last remaining member of the Panthera genus in Iran and it has a unique importance in Iranian cultural heritage.
1-Considering rapid developments in large number of habitats in the country, to conserve a vital population of leopards in Iran, it is essential to identify its potential habitats, level of suitability of identified habitats and available wildlife corridors among them. Lack of knowledge about the current potential and key habitats of the species and particularly the corridors linking these areas, is further threatening leopard survival in the region.
2-Even though several awareness raising programs have been conducted in Iran since recent times, studies revealed that 70% of the leopard mortalities are as a result of intentional hunting and poisoning of the individuals (Sanei et al. 2012). Conducting research based prioritized awareness raising programs that practically address human/livestock-leopard conflicts and knowledge of local communities about ecological issues is critically important.
3-Considering the fact that leopard has a wide distribution in Iran, to efficiently monitor its status over the years, it is essential to establish a leopard research network consisted of local experts and trained local knowledgeable persons for continuous recording of the species presence records, preys, habitat status and threats in various regions particularly outside of protected areas.
Considering the factors mentioned above, current project embarks on the following objectives:
To identify Persian Leopard conservation priorities in relation to the leopard potential and critical habitats in Iran as well as awareness raising and empowerment of local communities
1-To identify leopard potential habitats in Iran
2-To prioritize leopard potential habitats on the basis of habitat suitability and conservation measures to sustain viable population in Iran
3-To identify and prioritize awareness raising programs required to be conducted in each province to address human/livestock-carnivore conflicts
4-Development of scientifically based recommendations to local and national authorities concerning leopard critical habitats and urgently needed awareness raising programs identified during the current study
5-Training wildlife conservationists about the techniques and methodologies of awareness raising programs by experts of community-based programs in Iran
6-To establish a leopard research network consisted of local experts and trained local knowledgeable persons for continuous monitoring leopard status in various regions of Iran
1-First hand information on potential distribution of leopard in Iran and ranking of the potential leopard habitats on the basis of suitability and conservation considerations
2-First hand information on urgently needed awareness raising programs to address human/livestock-carnivore conflicts in each province
3-First hand information on the requirements of rangers and local authorities with respect to the leopard handling programs and emergency situations
4-Four regional workshops covering 31 provinces of Iran have been conducted and a seminar was held to present the results to decision makers and authorities.
5-In the end of the workshops local experts have learned the methodologies and techniques for conducting efficient awareness raising programs with focus on human-wildlife conflict issues
6-A Persian leopard online portal has been set up and a network of local experts and knowledgeable people have been established. Local knowledgeable persons and experts can record their leopard observations over time via the Persian leopard online portal. Furthermore, relative scientific information, knowledge and studies will be shared among the members.
7-By the end of the project a book of lessons learned from the project, a video of progress and procedures of the project as well as compact discs and reports of findings and results are prepared and sent to relative organizations and communities.