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Iranians outraged after safari tour group chases wild goat to death

A video posted online on October 28 shows four young people in an SUV chasing a panicked wild goat across a desert landscape. (Screengrabs)
A video posted online on October 28 shows four young people in an SUV chasing a panicked wild goat across a desert landscape. (Screengrabs)
7 min

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People across Iran were shocked and horrified by a video posted on October 28 showing four young people in an SUV chasing down a wild goat, which eventually collapsed and died of exhaustion. Desert “safaris”, where people entertain themselves by riding around in all-terrain vehicles in the desert, have become increasingly popular in Iran. However, this incident highlights the negative impact of this booming industry on the environment, says our Observer. 

Like their neighbours in the Gulf Arab states, thousands of Iranians have embarked on desert “safaris”, where they let loose with off-road driving across virgin terrain, skirting sand dunes and stumbling into oases. Participants are looking for a thrill and a chance to set their eyes on beautiful landscapes, unique geological formations and wild animals.  

“Look at his horns! Film, film!” yells one of the people in the car chasing the goat. 

 

The video showing one of these safari SUVs chasing down a wild goat was filmed on October 28 in the Dasht Kavir. The safari organisers were indicted and, according to Iranian media outlets, the driver responsible for the animal’s death was handed a 25 million toman fine (794 euros). However, Iranian environmental activists say that these fragile ecosystems are being damaged daily and the perpetrators are rarely punished. 

A wild goat that died of exhaustion after being chased by Iranians during their safari.

 

"This massacre must stop"

Alireza Shahrdari is a renowned Iranian environmentalist and an expert in reptiles and rodents:

 

The number of safaris have been growing over the past four years. It’s incredible how many SUVs and pickup trucks you now see in wilderness areas. 

In the past, the only people who partook in this kind of activity were adventurers and professionals within the tourist industry and they respected the environment. Now, however, this activity has opened up to the general public. Hundreds of tourist agencies in the towns next to the deserts are now offering excursions [Editor’s note: Online, prices range between 250,000 and 3 million tomans (roughly equivalent to eight to 95 euros), depending on the type and the length of the excursion]. 

This photo shows the way that safari vehicles have damaged the natural landscape in Maranjab. 

 

People don’t know how to avoid damaging the environment or they just don’t care. Some people see the desert as a dead zone. They can’t imagine that there are hundreds of wild animals and plants living there. 

I see firsthand the negative impact of these safaris on the regions I observe. I find it terrifying that I see tyre tracks everywhere. Even the most inaccessible areas, the ground bears these marks. 

The frequent passage of vehicles has damaged this erg, or field of sand dunes, in Mesr, as shown in this photo taken in September 2020.  

 

These ergs [Editor’s note: fields of sand dunes], these salt lakes, these wild expanses are, in fact, natural habitats for animals. These natural habitats are damaged and destroyed by the passage of cars. And when they come here one after another, they end up killing the native species. 

This accident took place in the Maranjab desert in October 2020. 

 

These tourists also litter in the most remote and pristine natural areas. Some of them use the branches of bushes, which they think are just dead trees, for kindling to build fires, which then leaves ash on the ground. This practice destroys the natural vegetation in this region, which is already sparse. 

This image, posted on a page advertising another tour company offering desert safaris, shows tire tracks that damaged the surface of a salt lake in the Maranjab desert.

 

"Some species are in imminent danger”

The desert food chain is complex. The safaris don’t just kill animals directly, as was the case in the video that caused such a stir in late October, but they also kill animals by destroying this chain. When they burn plants or drive over them, they destroy the food sources of rodents, reptiles and birds. When they drive over the burrows and nests of these rodents and reptiles, they kill them. Fennec foxes and sand cats are just some of the species that have been extremely threatened by these safaris. 

Several species face an imminent threat, including the desert monitor, scorpions, the Maranjab snake, the Eremias kavirensis lizard, which is native to the area around Dasht-e-Kevir and Cheesman’s gerbils, to name a few. 

From what I’ve seen, the regions most affected are Maranjab, as well as Mesr and Abouzeidabad, which are home to a lot of unique flora and fauna. We are still discovering some of these species. In the past five years, for example, we’ve discovered two new kinds of rodents in these deserts. 

There is no oversight for these safaris and absolutely no regulations governing them. So that means people can do what they want. The only reactions I’ve seen so far are online protests carried out by activists-- that’s it. 

There’s just one solution. We need to stop these off-road safaris and limit them to restricted areas."

In Iran, there are 253 national parks, forests and protected wildlife areas. However, these safaris occur in areas that, while fragile, aren’t protected by any regulations.  

On very rare occasions, local courts have been able to restrict access to the Maranjab desert – but only for a short amount of time. And this restriction was imposed to prevent men and women from partying there and acting in a "non-Islamic" manner. There have been no measures taken to protect the ecosystems. 

Article by Ershad Alijani

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