Iran Grappling With Illegal Wildlife Trade

Iran Grappling With Illegal Wildlife TradeIran Grappling With Illegal Wildlife Trade

The world has long been struggling with the unprecedented increase in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. While many countries have stepped up to fight illegal wildlife trafficking, Iran does not seem to be one of them, at least not according to animal rights groups. At least 74 species of Iranian wildlife are on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a sign of serious threats against the country’s biodiversity.

Illegal hunting has been dominating Iranian environmental news websites of late, from arresting poachers who kill the chukar partridge and mouflon to murderers who take the lives of dedicated park rangers. According to Iran Animal Rights Watch, over 100 park rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty, defending the country's biodiversity.

"At the moment, smuggling animals is one of the most profitable yet immoral business in the world and Iran is apparently not excluded, wildlife campaigner Sepehr Salimi told the Mehr news agency.

Humans regard animals as tradable goods and will stop at nothing to make a quick buck out of it, regardless of the harm it may cause the animals, he says as a matter of fact.

Illegal wildlife trade is indeed lucrative and in many cases high prices paid for rare species. Vulnerable wild animals are pushed further to the edge of extinction when nature cannot replenish their stocks to keep up with the insatiable greed of humankind.

According to Salimi, zoos, which are supposed to act as sanctuaries for animals, have gradually turned into circuses with the focus on profit. He believes wildlife trading is a "vicious circle" which only serves to benefit zoo owners. "They import animals to have them reproduce in their zoos, and then sell their offspring to zoos all over the world. It's a vicious circle."

  Safety Not Guaranteed

Lamenting a zoo's abysmal safety record in west Tehran, Salimi said, "The zoo is referred to as the 'feline slaughterhouse', due to their past failures to protect big cats." The failures Salimi refers to include the burning of lions, suffocation of a Bengal tiger, and the mysterious death of a Siberian tiger.

Despite the zoo's inability to keep its animals safe, the prospect of adding a new feline species - the white tiger - has come as a shock to Salimi and other activists. "It's incomprehensible," he said, "to have the audacity to add another big cat to a zoo which is clearly incapable of looking after animals."

A clear and painful example of what is commonly known as adding insult to injury.

  Nobody Takes the Blame

The campaigner believes the passivity of the Department of Environment is to blame for letting things get out of hand. "Had they taken our concerns seriously, we would not be talking about this now."

"When animals started dying in Isfahan's zoo, animal lovers and activists voiced their concern and staged protests until the zoo owners agreed to stop keeping lions and bears in captivity. In Tehran, however, nobody hears us."

To further stress the official torpor and lack of responsibility, he pointed out that the number of tigers in India in their natural habitat –and not in captivity- increased by 500 between 2011 and 2014, while in Iran responsible bodies are still preoccupied with fine-tuning regulations to manage zoos.

"Whenever an animal is born or a section of the zoo is upgraded, the owners blow their own trumpet and go out of their way to advertise it all over the place to draw attention," he said. "But you would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to take responsibility for an animal's death."

"If those responsible were held accountable for the burning of lions, or questioned over the suffocation of the Bengal tiger, maybe then we would not have to worry about exposing new species to the dangers of the zoo," he opined.

Criticizing the excuses given by the zoo management to justify their actions or the lack of it, Salimi concluded, "They tout animal conservation or educational purposes as excuses for their deeds, but the potential addition of the white tiger to the zoo completely negates their claims and shows that, like a circus, the zoo's owners care only about making money. Everything else comes afterwards."

  Public Awareness

Public education can help fight illegal wildlife trade. By raising and spreading public awareness on the dangers of animal trafficking, we may see a significant drop in this inhumane practice in the years to come. Furthermore, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) promotes banning or limiting trade in a particular species by effective enforcement, especially in developing countries like Iran where training and funding for enforcement are scarce. Many countries also lack strict national legislation and/or appropriate penalties for illegal wildlife trade.

To address this challenge, the WWF helps countries comply with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations by supporting program development, workshops and the creation of regulations.

In addition to poaching, which is on the rise in Iran, illegal wildlife trade has found its way to Iran and unless responsible officials rise to the occasion, it could well have more drastic effects on the country's diverse but diminishing wildlife.