Context. One-fifth of mammal species are at risk of extinction in the wild due to overhunting, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Protected areas are considered an effective method for conserving biological diversity, and can help prevent declines and extinctions of species. Thus, evaluating the effectiveness of protected areas in achieving conservation objectives is vital for successful conservation and management.
Aims. The aim of this study was to determine the spatial and temporal distribution of large- and medium-sized mammals and humans as an aid to evaluate the effectiveness of the Lar Protected Area in northern Iran. This area is expected to be a year-round habitat for seven large- and medium-sized mammal species: (1) brown bear (Ursus arctos); (2) golden jackal (Canis aureus); (3) Persian leopard (Panthera pardus); (4) Eurasian red fox (Vulpes vulpes); (5) wild goat (Capra aegagrus); (6) Alborz red sheep (Ovis orientalis); and (7) wild boar (Sus scrofa).
Methods. A camera-trap survey (2780 camera-trap days) was conducted in the Lar Protected Area, which included mountains, canyons and plains, from June 2013 to August 2014. The spatial and temporal distribution of four categories of humans in the study area was documented: wardens, poachers, tribal people and tourists.
Key results. All aforementioned mammals were photographed in the study area. The Lar Protected Area was a seasonally important habitat for the majority of these species, especially from October to December, whereas the presence of tribal people, tourists and wardens was greatest in summer. Poachers were most common in autumn, when wardens and other humans were less common. Poachers preferentially used an area containing canyons, as did wild goats, bears, leopards, foxes and jackals.
Conclusions. The seasonality of the distribution of the seven species, which were most common in autumn, suggests that mammals were avoiding humans in summer. An average of 7.6 photographs of poachers for every photograph of a warden was obtained; this implies a potential threat to the conservation of mammals.
Implications. These results suggest that the Lar Protected Area functions as a seasonal habitat for many species of mammals, thus highlighting the importance of adjacent protected areas. Temporal separation of wardens from poachers indicates that reallocation of wardens could reduce poaching.