Active involvement of local communities to establish the Persian Leopard Monitoring Scheme in Iran
In a wide view, the project aimed at establishment of an innovative and sustainable platform for the long-term monitoring of the Persian leopard population and habitat suitability status in Iran. All ten targets set for the community-based aspect of the project were successfully achieved and all but one were exceeded.
These quantified results were:
- 3 reference models established in 3 pilot sites with different procedures to address local environmental, cultural, financial and social characteristics (target was 1)
- 12 local coordinators trained to build capacity and 5 platforms established for this purpose (target was 1 platform)
- 3 groups of local people and one fund established (target was 1 group and 1 fund)
- 4 levels of jobs generating income for individuals created (target was 1)
- 3 local communities empowered in pilot sites (target was 1)
- 75 km2 covering 4 different types of landscapes positively influenced through project activities (target was 25 km2)
- 3 products sustainably produced (target was 1)
- 10 species influenced by project activities (target was 1)
- 154 individuals (82 women and 72 men) involved as direct beneficiaries of the project (target was 50)
- 25 publications and communication products produced to share the knowledge, techniques and lessons learned (target was 9).
Executive Director of the Asian Leopard Specialist Society and the project leader noted that: the innovative procedure developed for the leopard monitoring scheme not only helps us to monitor the status of the species for further conservation and management planning; but it also elevates the actual conservation status of the non-protected areas due to the active involvement of local communities. The scheme is independent of external funding which supports the sustainability of the procedures and the results. The scheme also strengthens the protection status of the habitats by decreasing illegal activities, such as illegal hunting of the leopards and the prey species, and encroachment of habitats.
Context and challenges
The Asian Leopard Specialist Society is a science-based organization officially established in 2010 in Tehran, Iran. The society conducts research, monitoring and conservation programs for the leopard (Panthera pardus) with particular focus on the Persian leopard in Iran.
This community-based program started when a key challenge was identified during the project under execution which was funded by the GEF Small Grants Programme at UNDP (Project No. IRA/SGP/OP5/Y7/CORE/BD/2018(203)). The project was to develop and establish the Persian Leopard National Monitoring Scheme in Iran. After conducting a probabilistic sampling, it was realized that most of the identified monitoring sites (called reference areas) were outside the protected habitats where logistics and human resources are readily available for monitoring purposes. As a result, there was an essential need to develop a program with the active involvement of local communities to collaborate in monitoring activities as well as developing a financial mechanism to support the expenses of the monitoring program.
For the financial mechanism to be long lasting it needed to be:
- developed with the participation and local knowledge of the communities in the monitoring reference areas
- based on a production program aligned with the local livelihood and lifestyle, traditional capacities and environmental and cultural characteristics in the identified sites
The next challenge in this program was the fact that the monitoring reference areas are distributed in various regions of Iran. Considering the extensive variability in local conditions (e.g. economy, culture, and environment) in different regions of the country, several pilot models were required to present an appropriate model for similar local conditions. To overcome these challenges, developing a community-based participatory program to support the long-term monitoring of the Persian leopard habitats and population in Iran was essential.
General objective: to establish community-based financial mechanisms by way of a variety of reference models in which each of them provides an independent platform for capacity building to form an innovative monitoring structure for the systematic and long-term monitoring of the Persian leopard habitats and population in Iran.
- Establish reference models to present the procedures for development of a proper facilitation process in various types of the monitoring sites.
- Provide a platform in which capacity building is implemented to empower local project coordinators.
- Establish a group of local people to develop a local fund for further support of the monitoring activities in the relative monitoring site.
- Create jobs and income generation in each pilot monitoring site.
- Empower local communities in a pilot site to enable them for further management of the financial scheme, the local production program and the established local fund.
Over a two-year period, Goli Ahmadifard, an IAF Endorsed™ Facilitator (EF), and Maryam Attarieh worked with the Asian Leopard Specialist Society to design and facilitate processes to:
- conduct a pilot program to assess baseline information and identify local coordinators in the pilot sites (a three-day workshop with local authorities and people)
- train decision makers and related governmental authorities (2 x two-day workshops with representatives of governmental organizations in various provinces)
- engage local communities in nominated pilot sites through meetings and workshops focussed on awareness raising, trust building, capacity building, group and job creation and income generation for local communities.
These processes established the fundamental platform required to implement the monitoring techniques in each of the selected sites.
The start of the project coincided with the covid-19 pandemic outbreak. Working with the Asian Leopard Specialist Society, the facilitators took an agile approach to adapt processes and make use of online facilitation when it was not possible for them to work in the field. This meant the project could go ahead while other community-based projects in Iran were generally being postponed due to the pandemic.
This project was designed and conducted in accordance with the Persian Leopard National Action Plan in Iran.
For more information see Persian Leopard Monitoring Scheme Report Photo Story and a video about the project.
Group work elaborating community development and learning development concept via image cards (above) and identification of women group capabilities (below) – Asian Leopard Specialist Society.
Drawing village map in terms of geography, agriculture and socio-cultural characteristics (above) and the identified yearly activities in the village (below) – Asian Leopard Specialist Society.
Group work for finding solutions to overcome participant’s fears (left) and voting on preferred organizational structure based on ILO cooperative module (right) – Asian Leopard Specialist Society.
Communicating learnings from the workshop by the staff of the Department of Environment of Iran – Asian Leopard Specialist Society.