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Notes on Southwest Asian zoology and citations and comments on the literature. 

Welcome to this site dealing with zoology in Southwest Asia. This is a work in progress; I have no idea as yet how much time I will be able to devote to it or what the scope of coverage will turn out to be. I am a herpetologist whose emphasis has centered on Iran, but I have broader interests in biogeography, conservation, natural history and other aspects of organismal biology. At the moment it is difficult for me to do field research in Southwest Asia and this site is an attempt to make some contribution by reviewing the literature, calling attention to important publications, linking to other relevant sites, and bringing people together for collaboration. If this site is useful to you, please contact me with links, literature, photos, and news about what you are researching. 
For starters, I call attention to the publication of the description of a new viper, Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Bostanchi, Anderson, Kami, and Papenfuss. 2006. A New Species of Pseudocerastes with Elaborate Tail Ornamentation from Western Iran (Squamata: Viperidae). Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, ser. 4, 57(14): 443–450). The snake was named for the appearance of the bulbous end of the tail, which bears a remarkable resemblence to a solpugid or a spider. The authors speculated that the ornament is used as a caudal lure, perhaps to attract particular prey species, such as birds (a bird was found in the stomach of the paratype). Recently, Behzad Fathimi collected a live specimen and made observations of its behavior in captivity. A remarkable video, taken by Fathimi, which can be viewed in the photos section of this site, demonstrates the use of this caudal luring behavior. A paper is in preparation describing these observations.
I want to call attention to the following recent book on the vertebrate fauna of Iran. Below is a review that I placed on Amazon.com.
The Complete Vertebrate Fauna of Iran, by Eskandar Firouz, I. B. Taurus & Co. Ltd. London and New YorkXiv + 322 pp. 2005. $90.
For nearly three decades, Americans have been conditioned to have negative associations with Iran. Few now have any knowledge of Persia's rich culture and history, much less its natural history. This book is an introduction to the vertebrates of Iran (the title is not quite accurate: to have included the invertebrate fauna would have required many volumes). Although this author published a similar volume in Persian in 2000, this is the first book since 1876 to make this information available in English (and that book did not include the fishes, as this one does). The book is aimed at a general audience interested in natural history, but will also be particularly useful to the professional naturalist visiting Iran for the first time. How I wish I had had such a volume when I first visited Iran in 1958 to begin my dissertation work! For the casual visitor, the book will be especially interesting to birdwatchers, as these are the animals most visible during daylight hours.
Many of the birds of Iran will be familiar to the birdwatcher familiar with the birds of Europe and/or Africa, both because Iran is on the major migration routes between these continents, but also because the distributions of more sedentary species extend into areas of Iran. Iran sits not only on the major routes of trade and cultural exchange in Asia, it is an area where the faunas and floras of Central Asia, Europe, Africa, and monsoon Asia come together and, to some extent, commingle. It also has the greatest diversity of habitats in Southwest Asia, from the Caspian Sea and moist temperate forests of the north, the high mountain chains of the Alborz and Zagros Mountains, the internal drainage basis of the Central Plateau, to the Persian Gulf and the low North Arabian deserts of the south and southwest. This habitat diversity, together with the fact that it occupies a tectonically active area, where the Arabian Plate and the Asian Plate are colliding, has given Iran a biogeographically interesting fauna and flora.
As in most of the world, Iran faces a conservation and ecological crisis as population grows rapidly and human incursions, air and water pollution, and other man-made influences affect habitats to an ever greater extent. In 1975, I was one of many international scientists and specialists brought to Iran by the Department of Environment to study the fauna and flora and to consult on conservation issues. At that time, Iran was on the forefront of conservation, with ambitious and forward-looking programs, having established national parks, national nature monuments, wildlife refuges, and protected areas in all of the major habitats of the country. The Department of Environment had offices in cities throughout the country, and the government was engaged in development of a botanic garden, a natural history museum and a state of the art zoological garden in Tehran. The major force behind this movement, with the support of the royal family, was Eskandar Firouz, Director of the Department of Environment and author of the present book.
Following the Islamic Revolution, priorities changed in Iran and although the protected habitats remain, the larger dream was lost. The good news is that there is a growing number of students and young professors in several universities around the country actively working on natural history. For the most part, they are eager for international collaboration, and most weeks I hear from one or more of them. What has been lost over the past nearly three decades in terms of conservation and growth of knowledge of the fauna is difficult to estimate, but only someone with many years of observation on the ground would recognize, as Firouz does, that the commonest frog species has severely declined, as have amphibians worldwide, or that no more than 25% of the avifauna of the late 1970s is seen today in Iran.
The book is well laid out, with useful maps showing drainage basins, political divisions, topography, and reserves of Iran. It includes a history of hunting in Iran, contrasting the extremely large bags of game, extending into the 20th century, with the diminishing to vanishing numbers of animals large and small. Both the Persian lion and the Caspian tiger became extinct in the past century. It details the history of conservation, which reached its apex in the 1970s. The formal study of the fauna is outlined and continues today. I know of a number of species that have been described just since the writing of this book. Faunal research has primarily concentrated on taxonomy and ecological, behavioral studies and other aspects of natural history are sorely needed. The physical geography and climate are briefly discussed as context for the fauna. The greater part of the book deals with the classes of vertebrates and every species known is listed by Latin name, English common name, and Persian name. The Iranian distribution of each species by provinces is also included. A summary of the natural history is included for the better known species, especially mammals, and an account of every order and family is presented. Most families are illustrated by at least one color illustration, both photographs and paintings for mammals, paintings for birds and fishes and photographs for reptiles and amphibians. The paintings are both accurate and beautifully rendered. I found a few misidentified or switched photographs of reptiles, but overall, errors of fact or typography are very few.
As with many fine books these days, the price may put this one out of reach of all but both professional and amateur naturalists with specific interest in Iran and Southwest Asia generally, but I hope that it will be found in many public and academic libraries and on the shelves of many naturalists who appreciate beautiful and well written natural history books.
When I first visited Iran nearly 50 years ago, I had the experience and the thrill of seeing wolf, bear, and hyena during the nine months I spent there. I suspect that such viewings are rare these days, but I hope that this book and its earlier Persian version will help to inspire a renewed period of environmental leadership and that populations of now rare animals will have a resurgence.
Steven C. Anderson

M. S. Khan has published an important revision of the geckos he assigns to the genus Cyrtopodion: Khan, M. S. 2008. Review of the morphology, ecology, and distribution of geckos of the genus Cyrtopodion, with a note on generic placement of Cyrtopodion brachykolon Krysko et. al., 2007. Caspian Journal of Environmental Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 79-86.
This review is based solely on external morphology, and I believe that his generic interpretation of the bent-toed geckos requires moecular phylogenetic support. My opinion on this pint dos not detract from the importance of this paper on morphology and ecology, however.

A new and extremely useful book has just been issued:

Sindaco, R. and V. K. Jeremčenko. 2008. The Reptiles of the Western Palearctic. 1. Annotated checklist and distributional atlas of the turtles, crocodiles, amphisbaenians and lizards of Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. Edizioni Belvedere, Latina, Italy, 579 pp., 248 col. photos, 226 maps, many unnumbered text-figs.

For each species covered, the text includes a distribution statement, a comment on subspecies, and citations to recent or most relevant literature. For a fauna that has been and still is in taxonomic flux, the controversies over nomenclature are well handled, and those who quibble over names used by the authors can readily locate the literature for alternatives. There are well over 800 bibliographic entries, including titles published in 2007. Distribution maps are included for species groups as well as for genera and species. Color photographs of representative species are of excellent quality, most of them taken in the field or at least against appropriate natural backgrounds. These form an important aspect of the presentation. The text figures are line drawings and lithographs taken primarily from classic works, such as John Anderson's Zoology of Egypt. These enhance the appearance of the book, but are of a size to be more decorative than informative. No one who works with the Palearctic fauna should be without this work.



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