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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 14059333

Raising public awareness about mitigation of human-leopard conflicts in Iran

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 14059333) - Persian leopard - Awarded $5,000 on September 29, 2014

This project provided supplementary support for our Prince Bernhard Nature Fund project on collaring domestic animals in villages around Golestan National Park, Iran. Collars have been fixed on cattle, sheep, goats and dogs in order to protect them from strangling neck bites of Persian leopards. By doing this, we aim at reducing the human-leopard conflict and saving these endangered big cats. 

The leopard of Southwest Asia is ranked as Critically Endangered to Endangered, with the stronghold range country of Iran and the largest single population living in Golestan. Near this protected area, leopards frequently attack calves, sheep, goats and dogs and thus provoke confrontation with local people, which often ends up with retaliatory killing of leopards. Out of 34 villages around this national park, 18 (52.9%) are recorded as conflict villages. To reduce this human-leopard conflict, we decided to fix protective collars on domestic animals having borrowed this idea from South African farmers and Landmark Foundation. We brought a few collars from South Africa and hired Iranian metalworkers to produce them for us according to our requirements.

At the first stage, the design and size of new Iranian collars (IR collars) were different from South African collars (ZA collars) because leopards in Iran and especially in Golestan are much bigger and often take cattle, while the smaller South African leopards kill only sheep and goats. Following a successful feasibility study with nine IR collars (three for calves, sheep/goats and dogs each), we produced a batch of 389 more IR collars. We fixed 270 collars (67.8% of produced), of which 190 were on calves in 9 villages, 73 on sheep and goats in one village and seven on dogs in one village. We emphasized calves because of their economic value which fetches significant losses in case of leopard predation.

The monitoring of the effectiveness of collars and the villagers’ feedback, as well as additional optimization procedures (collar padding to alleviate nape itching in calves), have revealed that the design of IR collars is unsuitable for calves. In calves, these collars caused discomfort during grazing, reduced body weight, complicated grooming behavior and led to attacks by non-collared conspecifics. Eventually, we decided to remove all collars from calves and to begin the second stage of the project by expanding sheep and goat collaring.

At the second stage, apart from the previously produced 73 IR collars we replicated 402 ZA collars, all of which we fixed in seven villages. These collars cause no problems for sheep and goats and are liked by owners. In June, during the shearing season collars are removed to prevent nape itching, but then are fixed back by owners. This time gap does not affect leopard predation, because in early summer sheep and goats graze on wheat stubble fields near villages where leopards do not dare to attack.

According to our monitoring, not a single sheep or goat equipped with an IR or ZA collar was lost so far to leopards, albeit predation on non-collared sheep and goats continues as before. The monitoring of leopard attacks on collared vs. non-collared livestock is underway. The price of an IR collar was ca. 8.8 Euro and that of a ZA collar was ca. 1.4 Euro, including manufacturing, painting and delivery costs. The IR collars were more expensive because they were larger (mostly for calves) and all-metal from perforated thin steel, whereas the ZA collars were made from steel wire mesh.

This project is also designed to produce and disseminate a bilingual Farsi/English documentary about using collars to solve the human-leopard conflict in Golestan. The process of documentary production, which covered all stages of the project, is gradually coming to its end. We anticipate to watch the final version and to upload it for a wide audience in this autumn. 

In the coming years, we plan to maintain collaring of sheep and goats, establish collar manufacturing capacities in local villages and apply new re-designed collars to calves. As the project is becoming popular also in other areas of Iran, we plan to expand the scales of livestock collaring once funding becomes available.  

Project 14059333 location - Iran, Asia