Iran's 3,000 hectare Hirkan National
Park was created in December, 1936. It is heavily covered
by forests (99.8%) and mountains
(96.9%). The park is most
important for the flora within its boundaries and there are
1900 known plant species, 162 of these endemic, 95 rare, and 38 in
danger of vanishing.
But though Hirkan has a great deal of important flora, somewhere along the line most of its animal life was lost. Only 18 mammal species remain and the most important of these are the porcupine, leopard, stone marten and striped hyena.
The area is historically significant to tiger lovers in that it was once a Caspian haunt and now shows much of the decimation common throughout large areas of early tiger habitat. Iran's wildlife has suffered from rapid alteration in environment, easy hunting, commercial resale and little in the way of well thought-out management. It is estimated that two million hectares of land per year turn to unproductive dessert which will never be able to recover. 96% of Iran's wildlife have been directly affected by the change in ecological balance.
Amongst all of this decimation it is the National Parks like Hirkan which have been some of the hardest hit areas. Caucasus deer, gazelle, foxes, beaver and thousands of bird species; these have all vanished from the area. Agriculture is an ever increasing pressure and animals not usually found in Hirkan or Lankaran forests are now located here. Many of Iran's wildlife is already extinct or on the very verge of total loss. The only remaining population of critically endangered Asiatic cheetah is in Iran, (note: these are not in the Hirkan area), and there is only one captive specimen, so conservation through zoo reproduction is not possible.
The release of African cheetah into the area has been suggested as one way to increase the population. Historically, African cheetah were imported and trained for hunting. It is more than likely that some escaped and hybridised with their Asian cousins. Other people point out obvious physical differences between the two cheetah; the Asiatic is of darker colour, has longer fur and a larger body. These would be lost with hybridisation. No comparisons of blood and tissue have ever been made between the two subspecies and without detailed analysis it is not possible to know how much African and Asian cheetahs may already have interbred.
With Thanks To Vern Moore (Photo 1,3)