BirdLife: The Magazine September 2017 - Page 10

IRREPLACEABLE Lake Dukan Kurdistan, Iraq Lake Dukan Photo Public Domain 0 10 In recent times, both Iraq’s identity and its landscape have been scarred by war. But there’s another side to this vast Mid- dle Eastern country that news reports from conflict zones don’t show: its stunning natural environments. From the world famous Mesopotamian Marshes — dubbed the “Cra- dle of Civilisation” — to mountain peaks; from woodlands to wetlands and from deserts to rivers, Iraq boasts many pock- ets of calm and greenery that seem a world away from popu- lar media depictions of tanks and gunfire. However, many of the country’s most important areas for nature lack any form of formal protection or recognition, and without such, they risk slowly slipping into ruin. One such area currently facing intense pressure is Lake Dukan, a man-made reservoir, and now the largest lake in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the crea- tion of this dammed lake has not had positive impacts on this Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA). The area is consid- ered an IBA primarily because of the steppe and the riverbed that lies to the north of the IBA; the construction of the dam in the 1950s has unforeseen impacts on the wildlife living in the area. As an example, the Euphrates softshell turtle, an Endan- gered species, now suffers from a skewed sex ratio, due to a change in the average temperature of the area’s rivers. BIRDLIFE • SEPTEMBER 2017 Nonetheless, Lake Dukan remains an important wintering site for numerous species of globally threatened water- birds, including Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. Equally, the hills and crags surrounding the lake support important numbers of Endangered raptors, including Saker Falcon Falco cher- rug, Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis and Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus. According to Korsh Ararat, an ornithologist who works for Nature Iraq (BirdLife Partner), one of the biggest threats facing the wildlife that depends on Lake Dukan and the sur- round area is overhunting. “Since people have fast and easy access to the area, and they come with jet skis and guns, they hunt everything they can see”, says Ararat. At the same time, the valleys and oak woodlands located within this IBA are gradually being chipped away, as they are urbanised and converted into gravel mines and agricultural land — the latter also having the unfortunate side-effect of introducing rodenticides and pesticides into the ecosystem. And significantly, the construction of a further dam on one of the lake’s main tributaries, across the border in Iran, threatens to deplete not only Lake Dukan’s water levels, but SEPTEMBER 2017 • BIRDLIFE also those of marshland IBAs throughout Iraq. “If this hap- pens, it will become easier not only for predators such as jackals and foxes to prey on the area’s waterbirds, but hunt- ers, too”, says Ararat. It is hoped that a new publication from Nature Iraq, Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq, will be an important first step in spearheading a national protected area network, and building a sustainable future for Iraq’s nature. Undertaken against the background of ongoing conflict, Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq is a culmination of over a decade’s work from Nature Iraq with support by the Iraqi Government, which maps and identifies 82 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) within the country — the jew- els in the crown of this surprisingly wildlife-rich country. The surveys, mostly undertaken from 2005 to 2011, covered both summer and winter, and many sites were visited multi- ple times to ensure they were as thorough as possible. The result is an invaluable inventory of the country’s most impor- tant sites for biodiversity — and the threats they face. 0 Saker Falcon Falco cherrug Photo Michal Ninger/Shutterstock 11