The wetlands of Iran are globally significant. Large populations of migratory birds winter at these wetlands or use them on their way to and from wintering areas in Africa or the Indian Sub-continent. The marshes of the south Caspian lowlands in Iran's northwest are particularly important for over 20 species of ducks and geese while the mud flats of the Persian Gulf coast are of critical importance for shore birds, gulls and terns. A variety of marine mammals is observed in the southern waters of Iran.
It is worth knowing that giraffes once grazed alongside wild sheep in the fields around present-day Maragheh in Azerbaijan. A similar sight today would be unusual, to say the least. Dinosaur footprints have been found north of Kerman, further evidence of the palaeontological diversity possessed by Iran.
Most of the wildlife, however, disappeared with the advent of the Ice Age some two million years ago; an ice age that lasted right up to about ten thousand years ago. The entire Northern Hemisphere was deeply affected by this geo-climatic upheaval, which extended as far south even as Iran, decimating numerous plant and animal species along the way. Included in its list of victims were sweeping phyllode forests, the last remnants of which are the jungles of Hirkan in northern Iran. Alas, instead of their protection as nature reserves of not just local but global importance, these jungles have fallen prey to a far deadlier predator than the Ice Age, namely man.
The range of temperatures and elevation found in Iran has paved the way for a remarkably diverse wildlife and environment to develop.
The soaring peaks of the Alborz range to the north and those of Zagros to the west, together with lesser ranges in the east, centre and south of the country, all combine for more than 100 peaks in excess of 4000 meters and provide the framework within which different climate zones develop, each one home to a panoply of plants and animals. This menagerie includes 8200 species of plant, 500 of bird. 160 of mammal and nigh on1000 species of reptile and aquatic organisms, a full description of which is again beyond the scope of our present discussion.
500 species of bird
Some 500 species of birds live in the trees and shrubs, mountains and waters of Iran. Species related to the duck family are invariably migratory. Whereas members of the partridge family ore either semi-migratory or native species. Of these 500 species, 350 reproduce inside Iran, though 250 of them actually originate in geographic zones outside the country, such as the green woodpecker, Greater spotted woodpecker, wall-crawler. Wood pigeon, blue-headed titmouse and forest goldfinch, which come from Asia and temperate European regions, and the garden woodpecker and black-headed titmouse, originating from the warm shrub lands of the Mediterranean. Species fly in from as far away the plains of Africa, not to mention closer home from the steppes of Asia and Turkistan. More than 30 species of Indian origin live in the south of Iran, including the Indian heron, white-back eagle. Mocking bird, lesser sea-dove, coastal egret and yellow heron, which originate in both India and Africa.
160 species of mammal
Iran alone possesses a greater variety of fauna and flora than the entire European
continent, which is four times its size. Climatic diversity and its position at the crossroads of the major environmental zones of Arabia, Caucasus, Turkistan and India, together with the inherent potential of the country itself, has made of Iran a land of such extravagance that its largest mammal is 130,000 kilograms heavier than its smallest one! In a marvellous legerdemain, Nature has provided Iran with an insectivorous mammal, which, at 2grams, is lighter than a coin, and 160 larger species, culminating at the other end of the scale with a species of whale that comes in at 130 tons. There are carnivores and herbivores, flyers and swimmers; canines and felines, rams and goats, bats and wholes. A kaleidoscope of mammalian life covering the whole of lran from the jungles of the North to the soaring peaks of Alborz and Zagros and the flatlands at the centre of the country.
A number of these species arc exclusive to Iran, such as the Iranian yellow deer, the zebra and the squirrel, the latter found in the west and south-west of the country, as well as the type of rodent called the 'sapphire walker', which was one of the native species first described by Mr Eskandar Firouz, a man of unparalleled learning and one of the founders of the Iranian environ mental protection movement.
Other species, such as the ibex and brown bear, are also found in the forests of Europe, Asia and North America.
Some species have migrated to the Iranian Plateau from Europe, such as the buck and
the lynx. Whilst the Mediterranean mole has managed, nominally at least, to preserve its heritage!
The Iranian Plateau is also host to a number of settlers from the East. From beyond the Oxus have come the black-tailed fox and the 'Parka', whilst the striped squirrel, black bear. Lesser mongoose and lndian gerbil have migrated from India and are now generally found in the south -Eastern Iran, in Baluchistan. What d shame it would have been if.
In this bric-a-brac shop of nature, Africa had nothing to put on show, especially since it was the African landmass that gave birth to the Iranian Plateau in the first place. Not to be outdone, therefore, the fruit-eating bat and a species of porcupine, among others, have traveled far to attend nature's banquet in lran.
Clad in its armour of technological superiority, here too humankind is bullying the nature that surrounds it in to silent submission. Species are slaughtered wholesale, habitats destroyed and forests razed to the ground. When the ponds and rivers that are home to so many of these species arc not drained of all their water, they are so polluted as to be unable to support any ecosystem worthy of the name. The air, too, has not been spared -the suicidal irony of this ecological carnage escapes its perpetrators, naturally'! Needless to say when such tragedies are in the offing, crocodile tears are shed in industrial quantities.
As Mr.Afshin Bakhtiar in his new book entitled "The Nature of Iran" has stated
The secret of Iran's varied nature is encoded in seven 'magic' numbers, listed
Below and explained thereafter.
The cryptic numerals of Iranian nature are
100, 6000, 8200, 160,500, 1000 and 129,999,998.
As to their significance:
100: The temperature difference between different points in Iran during the summer and winter. In Hamadan, for example, the temperature drops by at least 2°C if one climbs just 200 meters up Mount Alvand. Similarly, in AbarKouh, a few kilometers in to the desert the temperature will undoubtedly climb more than a few degrees. If we assume that the temperature drops by about 1°C for every 100 meters elevation, the question of what constitutes the" correct" temperature becomes rather more difficult to answer. How low is the temperature at 4000 meters, or on top of Mount Damavand (5671 m), for that matter? At the other ends of the scale, my esteemed mentor; Dr Parviz Kardavani believes that the warmest point on the planet is not to be found, as claimed elsewhere. In Arizona, Arabia or the deserts of Libya but instead in the Kavir-e- Lut in Iran, where temperatures in excess of 600 C have been reported. Accordingly, assuming the temperature atop the highest peaks in Iran reaches at least 400 C below zero and that in the Kavir-e Lut reaches 60°C, the temperature difference thus obtained equals 100°e, a figure of much significance.
600: The highest point in the Iranian Plateau, Mount Damavand. , Stands 5671 meters above and its lowest point, in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea, lies27 meters below sea level. Simple arithmetic indicates, therefore, that the elevation range in the Iranian plateau equals approximately 6000 meters.
8200: Dr Qahreman is one of those people, who have spent much of their valuable lives among the shrubs and trees of Iran. He states that Iran is habitat to more than 8200 species of plant, 2000 of them exclusive to the plateau. From the jungles of Hirkan in the north to the steppes of Alborz and beyond them to the goosefoot forests of the desert, Iran acts as back drop to a unique and remarkable interplay of vegetation.
160: A temperature difference of one hundred degrees and an elevation range of six thousand meters interact over an area of one-and-a-half million square kilometers to create a diversity of climates in which more than 8200 plant species co-exist with myriad small and large animals. One hundred and sixty species of mammal originating as far afield as Europe, India and Africa-live in Iran, forming, again, a fairly unique collection.
500: On any long flight over Iran, you are likely to witness a number of blue spots below you along the way. A closer look will reveal any of these "spots" to be a lake, pond or watering hole; a blue beacon to steer in the flocks of migrating birds yearning for a place to rest after a trek that perhaps began in Siberia and has lasted several thousand kilometers. Where better than the Anzali pond, the watering holes of Masileh or Lake Bakhtegan for migratory these flyers to rest their weary wings. Indeed the waters of Iran annually host millions of migrant birds, fleeing from the harsh Siberian cold in search of more hospitable climes. If we add the number of migratory, semi-migratory and native bird species found in Iran, we arrive at the figure five hundred species.
1000: The Caspian Sea, with its vast collection of caviar-producing fish; the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, the abundant in land ponds, lakes and rivers that nurture the whole spectrum of desert and mountainous habitats are home to hundreds of species of reptiles and fish-nearly six hundred of which have been formally identified. A concerted research effort, however, will surely raise this figure to more than one thousand.
129999998: This figure represents the difference in weight between the smallest and largest mammals native to Iran. Note that 1have used the word 'mammal'; since if I were to use the word 'animal', the figure obtained would come to a round 130,000,000 grams. The amazing point here is the word 'mammal' -there indeed exists in Iran a mammal that weighs just 2 grams, an insectivore. At the other end of the scale. As it were there is a species of whale that weighs close to 130 tons. Thus we have seven numbers, a seven-number combination with which to unlock the diverse mysteries of Iranian nature.