In Iran there are 10 different species of turtles but the Euphrates turtle is the only soft shell turtle species, found mainly in freshwater ecosystems of Khuzestan Province (Euphrates river system). This article is a summary of an interview with Dr. Hanyeh Ghaffari, researcher and member of IUCN/SSG Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and a founding member of “Pars Herpetologists Institute” (non-governmental and non-profit organization):
The Euphrates soft shell turtle is a globally endangered species (as indicated on the IUCN Red List). The main reason is habitat destruction and pollution of rivers. Some of the threats that have been identified in Iran were dam constructions, Iran/Iraq war, river pollution (pesticides, urban and industrial), wrongly believed to be detrimental to fish populations and also inappropriate fishing methods which is mainly due to lack of awareness about the global importance of this species.
Unfortunately there is little information available on the remaining numbers of Euphrates turtles in Iran, which needs to be investigated. However, research conducted by Hanyeh Ghaffari which applied radio-telemetry techniques which was the first investigation on habitat use, home range and habitat selection of the Euphrates Softshell Turtle in the whole distribution, has tremendously helped in understanding the behavior of this turtle species and provided vital baseline data for initiating successful conservation and management strategies.
Because of its secretive behavior, not many people knew the Euphrates turtle; therefore one of the main goals was to raise awareness and conduct scientific research on the behavior of this species over its range. Hanyeh Ghaffari started her research on this species in 2001, and from 2009 to present, the Pars Herpetologists Institute with support and funding from GEF/SGP at UNDP has been advocating the cause through public awareness campaigns, educational workshops in schools, consultation workshops Game Guards of the Department of Environment and government experts, publication of brochures, films, etc. The project already induced a significant behavioral change amongst the local people of Dezful County. Results on conservation and education were presented in different national and international occasions; Sulaimanya Environment Directorate of Iraq on 3 November 2011, Young Biologists Association meeting in Armenia 2012, The Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, Germany on 25 January 2013, also a meeting of Nature Institute in Tehran, etc.
As Haniyeh Ghaffari mentions in her interview, most of the awareness raising work (public, locals, schools, and Game Guards) was only made possible through funding from the GEF Small Grants Programme at UNDP, implemented by Pars Herpetologists Institute in collaboration with Khuzestan Provincial Bureau of Department of Environment as well as the DoE and the Ministry of Education in Dezful. The approach of GEF SGP is environmental conservation through local community participation, which makes project results more sustainable in long-term.
Source: Jame-jam Newspaper, Tuesday 9 April 2013, Page 12 ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Translation: Lisa Pourlak