Yesterday we went to the Museum of Biodiversity, supported by the country's Department of the Environment. The only one of its kind in Iran. As a 24-year old Californian, who has grown up studying environmental science throughout my schooling, the idea of a biodiversity museum seems quite normal to me. However, Iranians find this to be a very new concept.
It might be timely for me to provide some background information on environmental issues in Iran. Tehran has some of the worst air in the world. Many cars on the road are old and my sneaking suspicion is that catalytic converters are not required (many cars spit out brown smoke from the tailpipe constantly). I didn't see any smog checks either. There are beautiful mountains but the rivers running through them are literally full of plastic soda bottles and most people toss their trash into the streets. I was told today that many people see wasting water, energy and littering as a way of rejecting the regime as all utilities are nationalized and HEAVILY subsidized. Hence the "let the government deal with that" mentality. Remember the owl that said "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute"? Well, he hasn't made his way to Iran yet. Instead, for now, there is the Museum of Biodiversity -- a semi- interactive (2 touch-screen activities) museum in the center of a 3-highway conjunction in Tehran.
As we got off our bus, we walked by dozens of Afghani (who do ALL of the labor-work in Iran, and are unfortunately not respected much) planting trees. My eyes started burning almost immediately as we walked up the road passing a large sign that said "First Big Celebration of Earth Day!". There were fountains and solar panels and birdhouses all over, but they were also watering the grass in the middle of a very hot day. We entered and got a brief overview of the museum from the director, who spoke little English, but who had so graciously opened the museum for us on a day that it is normally closed.
The tour started with a larger-than-life model of the Persian tiger and the Persian lion, which are both extinct already. The rest of this small museum was filled with taxidermied animals from all over the world. Every animal ranging from a common pheasant to a giraffe was represented. Stuffed heads everywhere. I had a traumatic event as a child with my uncle's wall trophy of Bambi's mom. I was reminded of this as I saw all of these big sad eyes and smiling little faces looking down at me, and I actually started to cry.
Conservation in this country is an uphill battle (more like up Mt. Everest battle). Iran is in dire need of conservation specialists from other countries, who can work with Iranians to initiate awareness-raising and policy-making in this area. The country could also benefit by having its' students study other countries where the environmental technology is more advanced.
The Iranians are a very proud people and their wildlife is very important to them. However, due to media censorship, very few people know that so many species are face extinction, nor do they understand how their way of life effects the environment around them. Iran has a long way to go, and it can easily be said that they are where the US was in the early 1970s. All they need now is a campaign, dedication, and outside experts. Maybe we should send them our friend Hooty the Owl (or whatever his name was) to Tehran for a vacation. He might come back with emphysema though.