Dave Garshelis, Co-chair IUCN Bear Specialist Group

Hadi Fahimi was on board an Iranian passenger plane with 65 other people when it crashed into the Zagros Mountains en route from Tehran to Yasuj on Sunday, February 18, 2018. Nobody survived.

Hadi was a blossoming biologist focusing on the rare Baluchistan bear, a subspecies of Asiatic black bear. He worked on this species for his Masters degree in Habitat and Biodiversity Conservation from Islamic Azad University, completed in 2011.  In 2017 he began pursuing a PhD from that university, again focusing on this rare bear.

Hadi worked on a host of different species, including ungulates, cheetahs, and brown bears, and was known as one of the best field herpetologists in Iran.  He was also involved in many different conservation projects, especially targeting students and teachers. He was a perpetual teacher and nature guide. But most notably, Hadi was one of a small handful of people to devote his career to understanding the Baluchistan bear.  He had already invested 10 years of his life in that quest, and was recognized as an accomplished field biologist. He was successful because he was observant and diligent at collecting data, and he developed a network of collaborators and contacts.  His recent aim was to identify habitat fragments and corridors important to Baluchistan bears, which should be prioritized for conservation.

(left) Hadi was an accomplished field herpetologist (Latifi’s viper, Montivipera latifii), but his first love was (right) Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus). Photo credit: Barbod Safaei

(left) Hadi was an accomplished field herpetologist (Latifi’s viper, Montivipera latifii), but his first love was (right) Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus). Photo credit: Barbod Safaei

(left) Hadi was an accomplished field herpetologist (Latifi’s viper, Montivipera latifii), but his first love was (right) Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus). Photo credit: Mehdi Chalani

(left) Hadi was an accomplished field herpetologist (Latifi’s viper, Montivipera latifii), but his first love was (right) Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus). Photo credit: Mehdi Chalani

Hadi learned that conserving this species required much more than understanding its biology and ecology.  Hence he spent much effort promoting community awareness and helping to alleviate human–bear conflicts. He cared deeply for local people, and wanted to ensure that they were compensated for losses and personal harm from bears, while also hoping that they could generate some revenue associated with bear conservation.

Hadi and his team learned from local people that in some parts of their range, Baluchistan bears regularly used caves.  They scientifically documented this unusual behavior for the first time, and pointed to the need to conserve this valuable resource.  Hadi led in the publication of that work, as well as a 2018 paper on seeds germinating from scats of bears, and how this discovery could also aid in their conservation.

In 2014 Hadi was appointed membership in the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group, signifying his recognition as a leading bear expert and conservationist.  The IUCN is the largest, most respected conservation organization in the world.  Bear Specialist Group members are selected based on their professional achievements and demonstrated active work in bear conservation.   For the past 4 years, Hadi was an active member, frequently providing new details of his work, and always desiring intellectual input from others.  He was a passionate scientist, naturalist, and conservationist, and will be dearly missed.

Dave Garshelis

Co-Chair: IUCN Bear Specialist Group

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Summer Vol. 27 No. 2 on page 11