Morteza Arianejad, Asiatic Black Bear Project
Taher Ghadirian, Persian Wildlife heritage foundation
Azar Sedaghati Khayat, Earth’s Whisper Institute
Yasaman Talebi Otaghvar, Earth’s Whisper Institute
Shadi Tavakolimehr, Earth’s Whisper Institute

We started a project to study and conserve the Asiatic black bear in Hormozgan Province of southern Iran in 2009. We have gathered essential data for the conservation of this critically endangered species (classification of so-called Baluchistan bear in Iran). Specifically, we investigated its distribution, diet and conflicts with humans. Parallel to the field work, we have been involved in related activities such as education, participation of local people and revival of forgotten handicrafts mostly made of Persian Mazari palm.

Traditional baskets made of Persian Mazari palm. The tag explains the use of this palm as a food for the critically endangered Asiatic black bear in Iran, and an added (voluntary) conservation fee to help in the conservation of this species. Photo credit: Saghi Sarabi

Traditional baskets made of Persian Mazari palm. The tag explains the use of this palm as a food for the critically endangered Asiatic black bear in Iran, and an added (voluntary) conservation fee to help in the conservation of this species. Photo credit: Saghi Sarabi

Morteza Arianezhad (right) with local guide during field trip to survey for black bears in Minab Province, Iran. Photo credit: Mostafa Arianejad

Morteza Arianezhad (right) with local guide during field trip to survey for black bears in Minab Province, Iran. Photo credit: Mostafa Arianejad

Connections Between Handicrafts and Conservation
Persian Mazari palm is an item in the Asiatic black bear’s diet. New leaves of this plant are the main food source in the region during June through mid-July, when date palms are not yet ripe and it is too dry for other natural plants. Old leaves of Persian Mazari palm used to be pruned yearly by local people to make handicrafts for daily use. This produced a natural cycle, involving the gathering of old leaves by people for handicrafts, which stimulated the growth of new leaves as a food source for the bear.

During the course of our project, a study on the local community lifestyle using Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA) methods, we learned that the fabrication of traditional mats, baskets, and utensils, mostly from Persian Mazari palm, had been a forgotten art for decades. Use of plastic products had become more common. However, we thought it would be important to try to save this old culture, which would also help provide food for the Asiatic black bear at a time of scarcity. The project motivated local people to revive their old palm-weaving and introduced the product to the people of big cities, such as Tehran.

Typical rugged Asiatic black bear habitat in Minab County, Hormozgan Province, Iran. Photo credit: Morteza Arianejad

Typical rugged Asiatic black bear habitat in Minab County, Hormozgan Province, Iran. Photo credit: Morteza Arianejad

We also thought that reviving these handicrafts and selling them with a surplus “conservation fee” might also provide some funding to start training local people to survey and monitor possible bear corridors –– one of our key conservation goals. The handicrafts had 2 different prices: one was the price that local people chose plus other extra costs associated with transporting (baskets $US 5–20, mats $4–30); then there was the price that included our conservation fee (additional $3 per piece). Handicrafts carried a logo and short explanation of the conservation project. We explained to people that this added fee was optional –– some people were motivated to donate more.

Field Surveys Yield New Information

Traditional baskets made of Persian Mazari palm. The tag explains the use of this palm as a food for the critically endangered Asiatic black bear in Iran, and an added (voluntary) conservation fee to help in the conservation of this species. Photo credit: Saghi Sarabi

Traditional baskets made of Persian Mazari palm. The tag explains the use of this palm as a food for the critically endangered Asiatic black bear in Iran, and an added (voluntary) conservation fee to help in the conservation of this species. Photo credit: Saghi Sarabi

During field surveys we had identified 2 main habitats for the black bear in Hormozgan Province: Bashagard and Roudan regions. However, we did not know how many separate populations there were, or corridors connecting these in this very arid habitat.

Records of ABB in Hormozgan Province. Yellow circles are our previous records (2009-2015); black squares represent new records obtained by Morteza Arianejad (November 2016).

Records of ABB in Hormozgan Province. Yellow circles are our previous records (2009-2015); black squares represent new records obtained by Morteza Arianejad (November 2016).

In Minab County, one of the main unsurveyed areas located between Bashagard and Roudan, we met a local person, Mr. Morteza Arianezhad, who was eager to participate in the project. He had accompanied us earlier on 2 training field trips in the Bashagard area during 2015 and 2016. He started his survey in Minab’s bear habitats in August 2016. The project supported him with information, camera traps, and covered his trip expenses. He gathered information from old herders and farmers to find habitats suitable for bears. He set 4 camera traps on wildlife trails and near caves. After 147 trapnights of effort he captured 4 photos of black bears on trails near a date palm garden and a den.

Minab County is thought to contain the best habitats for black bears in Hormozgan Province, as well as being a possible corridor between Hormozgan and Kerman Province. The photos and other bear signs collected in this area reveal previously unknown bear habitat and implicate this region as a potentially important matrix of corridors among Asiatic black bear populations. This region deserves further comprehensive surveys to determine the status of black bears.

Acknowledgements:
We thank Nahid Ahmadi, Sohrab Poshtareh, Armin Sadeghipour, and Mostafa Arianejad for field work and collaboration in preparing of this article. This project is supported by the Bears in Mind Foundation and Hormozgan provincial office of Department of Environment, which we appreciate.

Morteza Arianejad

Asiatic Black Bear Project

Taher Ghadirian

Member: Asiatic Black Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Persian Wildlife heritage foundation
No 99, Karimkhan Ave, Tehran, Iran
Email: T.ghadirian@gmail.com

Azar Sedaghati Khayat

Earth’s Whisper Institute

Yasaman Talebi Otaghvar

Earth’s Whisper Institute

Shadi Tavakolimehr

Earth’s Whisper Institute

originally published in International Bear News 2017 Fall Vol. 26 No. 3 on pages 14-15