Sunday, June 25, 2006

Here's another critter people don't expect to see in Iraq, a Crested Porcupine (Hystrix indica). This large rodent can weigh up to 40 pounds. The photo was taken by Rocco Moschetti, a vector control specialist who worked in Iraq for 2 years. This porcupine wandered into a trap set for feral dogs at Al Asad Airbase in Al Anbar province. Other interesting animals he caught included jungle cat and striped hyena.

Another birder is now active at the Camp Victory complex near the Baghdad International Airport. John is an Air Force Officer on a 4 month rotation, which should get him into the best times for fall shorebirds, landbirds and waterfowl. John has written about some of the birds he's seen at his blog and he's started a yahoo group called Operation Iraq Birds where he'll be posting some of his pictures. He's at least the fifth resident of the base complex who has been a serious birder. I was only a visitor, but I did see some great birds on base.

Two of his predecessors LTC Bob and Joe H from Alaska both compiled impressive lists within the confines of the few interconnected bases. The variety of habitats from large lakes, reed-lined canals, scrub and mudflats add to the bird diversity.

Laura Erickson at Birderblog is still getting photos of birds from people stationed in Iraq. She's accumulated quite a gallery that is worth checking out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Today I found an announcement of the designation of the first wildlife refuge that I've heard of in Iraq. The Assafia Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Al-Hawizah Marsh between Basrah and Amara near the Iranian border in the south of the country. This marsh was essentially the only part of the mesopotamian marshes that survived the draining in the 1980's and 90's. The fact that the marsh also received water from a river in Iran probably saved it from the fate of the central marshlands. By 2000 Al-Hawizah was reduced to 35% of its 1970's levels. Since 2003, the marsh has started to expand again because of reflooding. A dike being built on the Iranian side of the marsh will probably have a negative impact on the marsh by diverting water coming from the Karkeh and Karun Rivers.

The Al-Hawizah Marsh was said to have one of the largest concentrations of wintering waterbirds in the world. It unknown the status today, but the marsh once held large numbers ofwintering Greylag Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Greater Flamingo and Coot. Breeding birds include the Endangered Basra Reed Warbler, Grey Hypocolius and Iraq Babbler. Historically Goliath Heron, African Darter and Sacred Ibis were found in the marsh.

In February a meeting between the Basrah Marine Science Center and local government officials established a plan to manage the sanctuary including conducting a biological inventory and provide environmental education of people living near the sanctuary.

This is a big step. Iraq under the former regime had no real conservation infrastructure. The few conservation laws, such as countrywide bans on hunting, were ignored.

A recent paper entitled "Restoring the Garden of Eden: An ecological assessment of the marshes of Iraq" was published this past week in the Journal Bioscience. The paper documents the revival of some of the Mesopotamian marshes since the fall of the former regime in March of 2003.