Earliest Evidence Found for Aboriginal People Living on the Australian Coast

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A team of international archaeologists has confirmed evidence from a remote cave in Australia’s North West that pushes back human occupation of Australia to around 50,000 years ago.  The discovery is of international significance in providing one of the earliest age brackets for the settlement of Australia. It also has the longest record of dietary fauna providing unprecedented insights into the lifeways of the earliest Australians.

Lead archaeologist Professor Peter Veth, from The University of Western Australia, said the findings provided unique evidence for the early and successful adaptation of Aboriginal people to both coastal and desert landscapes of Australia.

“This site contains cultural materials clearly associated with dates in the order of 50,000 years,” Professor Veth said. “This pushes back the age of occupation from the previous and more conservative limit of 47,000 years ago. Even older dates are entirely plausible.”

The team focused on Barrow Island, which provides a unique window into the now-drowned North-West Shelf of Australia.  Barrow Island is a large limestone island located 60 km off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.

University of Western Australia

Chinese Workers Eating Endangered Turtles in Iran

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turtleIt has been reported recently that the Chinese technicians working on the South Pars Gas Field are eating the turtles that have been listed as endangered species in Iran. The report on the Iranian TV which shows the turtles being prepared and cooked shows this small species of turtle.  Further research is required to find out if the Chinese technicians and workers are aware of the fact that these turtles are listed as endangered species by international organization or if they have been given any warnings by the Iranian authorities.

Several species of Iranian turtles have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is illegal to collect, harm or kill any of the species on the endangered list- The Red List, and most countries around the world have regulations and guidelines against any one or groups causing harm to these endangered species. IUCN continues to list many such species in its Red List and advises countries on the preservation.

In Southern Iran, the shorelines span over 1800 km across the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea with many sites where different species of turtles exist.  Several small and big islands in the Persian Gulf with coastline of about 600 km are also home to several species of turtles.

Endangered Persian Leopard

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Persian_Panter_Leopard

The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica syn. Panthera pardus saxicolor), also called Caucasian leopard, is the largest leopard subspecies, and is native to northern Iran, as well as eastern Turkey, the Caucasus mountains, southern Turkmenistan, and parts of western Afghanistan. It is endangered throughout its range with an estimated 500 to 700 leopards believed to be found in Iran.

In the past 10 months it has been reported that eleven leopards have been killed and another one was paralyzed in Iran. Prior to this recent trend, two of four members of Iranian big cat family became extinct including Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) and Asiatic lion ((Panthera leo persica). Persian Leopard is on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) endangered list.

In Iran, primary threats include: a) habitat disturbances caused by constructing new roads and factories, or presence of military and training of troops in border habitat areas; b) illegal hunting and/or poaching; c) habitat loss due to deforestation, fire, agricultural expansion, overgrazing, and infrastructure development; and  d) depletion of their prey.  Other factors are road accidents, or (the leopards) being killed by peasants and guardian dogs.

The leopards’ chances for survival outside protected areas are very slim. Intensive dry conditions in wide areas of leopard habitats in recent years are affecting leopard main prey species such as wild goat and wild sheep.Recent reports and evaluations of conditions by the environmentalists on the Persian leopard mortality rate in Iran have revealed that 70% of leopard mortalities from 2007-2011 were as a result of illegal hunting or poisoning and 18% were because of road accidents. Even though, the anti-poaching laws and fines in Iran include a fine of $1600 for killing a leopard, it cannot compete with the global market prices (and demand) for leopard skin which is over $10,000 (each). Therefore, more restrictive regulations and monitoring are needed in Iran, in order to stop this growing threat.

 

In addition, Asiatic cheetah is another member of big cat family in Iran which is near extinction and is currently on the endangered list.

Dangerous Air Pollution in Iran

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pollutionIn recent years, air pollution has drastically increased in different Iranian cities. Environmental experts and activists believe that non-standard petrol is one of the most important reasons for increased air pollution and causing major health problems in Iran.

Production and use of non-standard (domestically refined) petrol has been increased in the past 3 years, and according to the published figures, Iran produces around 60 million litres of petrol on a daily basis which roughly corresponds to its national consumption. However, even though the Iranian officials have promised to increase the production of higher grade petrol with Euro 4 and 5 standards (used in European countries) the low-grade domestically-produced petrol is still what is mainly produced (and used). Recently Iran’s environmental organization asked government to stop producing this non-standard petrol in the country and instead start importing petrol from other countries until it meets the required standards.  Some Iranian parliament`s representatives have explicitly suggested that production of this low quality and non-standard petrol is linked to increased risk of cancer in Iran.

In recent years, there have been higher cases of cancer, heart attacks, asthma, neurological disorders, miscarriages and birth defects reported in Iran and exactly a year ago, the government reported that over 4000 death in Tehran, the capital of the country, could perhaps be attributed to poor air quality.

Other major factors causing air pollution include limited access to small environment-friendly cars (due to lower imports), and using non-standard domestic cars. Also, expansion of manufacturing companies which do not pay attention to the environmental issues as well as low restrictions and poor regulatory standards are other causes impacting air quality and increasing air pollution.

The Critical Condition of Iranian Boxwood Trees

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boxwoodIt has been less than three years since the pest by the name of fungus Buxicola cylindrocladium became prevalent in the forests of Northern part of Iran. During 2012 summer, disease symptoms and severe defoliation of boxwood trees were seen in two areas. This pest specifically attacks the leaves and branches of the Buxus hyrcana.  Based on the latest assessments around 55,000 acre of the forests of the northern part of Iran are affected by this fungus.

Boxwood (Buxus hyrcana Pojark) is one of the protected evergreen trees species that grow as compact colonies in the preserved forests of the Caspian Sea region of Iran. boxwood2The Buxus hyrcana is one of the most outstanding and unique species of Hyrcanian forest of northern part of Iran, and southern part of the Caspian Sea. It is also believed to be the relics of the third geology era and is one of the first species trees ever to exist. The Buxus hyrcana or scientific name of Buxus hyrcana Pojark is in the list of endangered plant species of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It is believed that several reasons have contributed to the current crisis and these include: decreased amount of precipitation; increasing temperature; and imported wood affected by disease-causing fungus. Unfortunately, no major prevention and treatment measures have been undertaken by the authorities and no public awareness steps have so far been offered.

Iranocypris Typhlops: Vulnerable and Endangered Species

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Iran-cave-barbThe Iranian Cave-fish Iranocypris typhlops is one of the rare and endemic Iranian species of our time. Iranocypris typhlops, the Iran cave barb, is a species of ray-finned fish in the Cyprinidae family, and the only member of the monotypic genus Iranocypris. It is endangered species which inhabits a cave in Lorestan province in Iran and is considered to be the first true cave fish in the world (freshwater, cave dwelling species). It was registered as one of the national heritage species in Iran in 2005, and it has been recognized as a vulnerable species for its threatened habitat according to the IUCN Red Data Book since 1990.

Many factors have contributed to the present situation and currently threatening the existence of this unique species. These factors include: Human intrusion of their living cave, lack of funding for researchers for further research and improvement of the conditions, accumulated agricultural waste in the water and as a result in the cave, inadequate environmental monitoring, lack of additional fish-farms outside the fish’s natural living zone (for additional breeding) and small populations of fish.

Lastly, the construction of a new dam within 500 meters of these caves makes environmentalists and researchers even more concerned than ever before. The authorities have recently made a number of promises for new measures but none has been fulfilled yet.

For more information for Iranocypris typhlops being on the Vulnerable Red List visit http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/10849/0

The Critical Condition of Iranian Mangroves

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mangrove

Mangrove forest, Qeshm (photo: V. Schick)

Global commitment towards the conservation of biodiversity is of critical importance. The accelerating rates of loss of floral and faunal species and the projected negative impacts of this loss on humankind have been greatly described by many scientists.  Marine ecosystems are continuously in danger of extinction.  A great example of these disappearing and in danger ecosystems is the “Hara forests”.

The “Hara forests” is the common name for mangrove forests on the southern coast of Iran, particularly on and near the island of Qeshm in the Persian Gulf. Dominated by the species Avicennia marina, known locally as the “hara” or “harra” tree, the forests represent an important ecological resource. The “Hara Protected Area” on Quesm is a biosphere reserve where commercial use is restricted to fishing (mainly shrimp), tourist boat trips, and limited mangrove cutting for animal feed.  Hara forests are major habitats for migratory birds, reptiles, fish, arthropods and bivalves.

This area was recognized by the Man and the Biosphere program (MAB) of UNESCO in 1977 and then listed on the UNESCO’s national environmental heritage list in 2007.  However, the condition of Hara forests and the mangroves have continuously worsened and this great natural heritage site is greatly in danger of devastation.

Factors threatening or adversely impacting mangroves include:  industrial and shipping pollution, dumping of chemicals into the sea, excess mangrove cutting for animal feed, climate change,  lack of education on environmental issues and awareness about reproductive ecology, poor regulatory standards and laws, lack of proper attention by the local and governmental authorities, and road construction within the Nayband forests (which created a seawater connection this region) resulting in destroying part of the mangrove forests.

A New Theory for the Origins of Stonehenge

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Archaeologists have argued for centuries about what Stonehenge really meant and why it was built.  A team of British researchers from a number of universities including universities of Southampton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Sheffield, London, York and Durham presented new theories about the origins and purpose of Stonehenge earlier this month: It may have started as a giant burial ground for elite families around 3,000 B.C.  This group of academics who have done extensive research, propose that that Stonehenge should be seen less a temple of worship than a kind of building project that served to unite people from across Britain.  They also believe that the builders converged seasonally to build Stonehenge, a ritual that was likely done over several years.

Stonehenge_large

Researchers studied more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments excavated from the site and suggest that about 500 years before the Stonehenge we know today was built, a larger stone circle was erected at the same site as a community graveyard.  The archeologists studied the cremated bones of 63 individuals, and believe that they were buried around 3,000 B.C.  Analysis of the remains of a settlement near the monument indicated that thousands of people traveled from as far as Scotland to the site, bringing their livestock and then slaughtering them in nearby site during the winter and summer solstices celebrations.

According to the Guardian newspaper, this autumn visitors to Stonehenge will see more interpretation of its complex history when the new visitor center finally opens.

Soltanieh Dome’s Deteriorating Condition

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Soltanieh Dome

Zanjan’s Soltanieh Dome which is about 54 meters high and is about 700 years old has a very unique mosaic and brick design and architecture.  This dome is the third biggest dome in the world after Santa Maria Del Fiore church’s dome in Florence, Italy, and Hagia Sophia mosque’s dome in Turkey.  Soltanieh Dome was listed as a UNESCO national heritage site by UNESCO in 2005.  However, this heritage site is now facing a number of architectural problems including deep cracks, chipping of mosaic tiles, discoloration of frescos.  In addition, it looks like water has been getting into the building through the cracks in the structure.  This historical dome like many other historical sites in Iran is suffering from wrong repair methodology and upkeep as well as absence of technical expertise in preservation of these sites. This has resulted in the dome to become heavier in weight and has changed in shape and it now looks very different from the original design.  The latest problems that this site faces are the residential buildings which have been built in the vicinity and close proximity of this national heritage site.  This situation could soon result in UNESCO’s re-listing the site as an in-danger heritage site. 

Extinction of “Child of Fire” Newt

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salamander1

Translated by WCHV.

Kaiser’s Spotted (KS) Newt (Neurergus kaiseri), also known as the Luristan Newt or Emperor Spotted Newt  is a species of very colorful salamander in the Salamandridae family. It is endemic to the southern Zagros Mountains in Iran.  The KS Newt and Salamander is one of the most beautiful species of salamander and is estimated that there are only about 1,000 to 10,000 left in the wild. However it has been reported widely that as of January 2013, the KS Newt or salamander only lives in captivity and is now considered to be highly endangered. 

The reasons for the almost extinction of the KS Newt are environmental pollution, drying rivers, streams and ponds which are their natural habitat and the most recent one; the illegal capture and trade in the black market by profiteers.  Lack of education and awareness about environmental issues and absence of preservation mandate has also led to trading of these KS Newt or salamander for the Norooz festival or the Persian New Year. 

KS Newt or Salamander’s name means the child of fire in the native Luristan language and it symbolizes bravery and kind spirit. 

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