November 2007- The first ecological study on the brown bear in Iran has been conducting since 2006 by the Iranian Cheetah Society (ICS) in North Central Alborz Protected Area. Supported by the Iranian Department of the Environment (DOE) and Deutch Zoo Conservation Fund (DZCF), this research project has focused on various ecological aspects of the species as a part of “ICS Big Carnivores Program” in Iran. The study area is mainly composed of Hyrcanian mountain forests in northern Mazandaran province, aiming to provide a baseline for the future studies as well as to develop management plans.
The brown bear is the largest carnivore in Iran which has not yet been studied in the country as it deserves and there is not documented information about it in Iran as well as international organizations. Meanwhile, the growing conflict with local people and lethal control methods against it in most of the species range in the country have faced a serious threat to its survival. Accordingly, this research project was launched to work on the brown bear’s food habits, behavior, habitat selection, conflict with local communities, population status and reproduction. The species hibernation is fully unknown in Iran and no data is available on if the bear do so in various habitats of the country. Therefore, despite of harsh environmental circumstances in winter, bear hibernation was investigated during winter 2006-2007, concluding that the bears spend a minimum of 60 to 70 days inside their winter dens, probably one of the shortest hibernations among the species range throughout the world. Conflict between the animal and the local people in the habitat is relatively high, thus, a part of this research is dedicated to the local people, to probe into their problems and also their threats to the wildlife.
As mentioned on scientific literature, one of the most practical solutions to recognize different individuals of a bear population in a particular area during a short period of time is perhaps to recognize different individuals according to their appearance, color and some special morphological signs. We found a high variability of color patterns among the bears in the study area, from yellowish to quite dark and have been able to count at least 37 to 39 brown bears during a limited time of two months in the area’s core zone.
As well as the brown bear, some studies have been also accomplishing about the other available species in the area, including Persian leopard and Eurasian lynx. The Persian leopard is one of the most charismatic species which we have managed to get some valuable data about it, mainly on predation, habitat selection and conflict with local communities which a short communication has been published on spring 2007 issue of IUCN Cat News (you can download it from Library). Unfortunately, annually at least 15 to 20 domestic cows from 8 villages around the area are killed by the leopards and in return, at least 1 to 2 leopards get lethally eradicated, mainly through lacing carcasses with organochlorine pesticides to poison leopards returning to feed on a kill. Therefore, it seems extremely essential that the Iranian Department of the Environment needs to take serious measures to reduce this conflict.