A Conservation Story Par Excellence (and True), By Alexander Sharif

Editor’s Note:

We’d like to thank our friends at the Wild Sheep Foundation for allowing us to re-publish this excellent piece from Alexander Sharif, found originally in the Summer 2016 issue of Wild Sheep Magazine. You can receive Wild Sheep Magazine by joining WSF at www.wildsheepfoundation.org.

 


 

Preamble: In every nation’s history, as the case was in the North American continent, there are only a handful of individuals whose efforts have led to the implementation of conservation and preservation of the native game species. In Persia (aka Iran), this movement was started from the top down. Hunting has been a pastime of this proud nation for over 2,500 years. However, with the advent of the modern firearm and its accessibility to the general public after the world wars, the Royalty was soon to discover that if nothing was done to protect the game, the very existence of the game itself, and sport hunting, would soon vanish.

“Around the late 1950’s, a group of young and educated Persian hunters, some of whom had studied abroad, came together to form the Department of Environment of the Environment, with its main focus on instilling game laws, and bag limits, setting aside protected areas and declaring hunting seasons. This movement was spearheaded by visionaries such as the late Harvard graduate, prince Abdorreza Pahlavi himself, General Gholesorkhi, Mr. Riyahi (all deceased), and last but not the least, the still-living Mr. Alex Firouz. Through decades of their relentless efforts, Persia became the paradise of mountain hunters, offering hunts for three varieties of wild sheep (TransCaspian Urial, Armenian and the hybrid red sheep of central Alborz Mountains), two varieties of ibex and the spectacular Maral red deer. It is also noteworthy to mention that Persia is the only country in the world where the protection of the environment is part of the constitution. That too, was interjected from above by the Royal Family.

“Following is an article that appeared in the 1974 spring issue of what was then the monthly magazine of the Fish and Game Department. It proves to show that with just a small amount of coaching and training, one can turn a simple-minded/non-educated poacher into a conservationist. I was mesmerized by its simplicity and the author’s prose and decided to translate it from my maternal Farsi language for my brethren; the members of the Wild Sheep Foundation. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.”

WSF life member Alexander Sharif Calgary, February 2016

It was the last day of our futile three-day big game hunt after ibex that my hunting partner and I looked at our watches simultaneously to find out it was around 2 pm whence we had come across a narrow valley with a beautiful brook coming out of it. There was enough shade provided by the weeping willows for us to sit down and enjoy our last lunch in ibex country of what was left of our food cache. A half hour hadn’t passed when we noticed the presence of a tall villager who was carrying a large load of firewood tied to his back also approaching the brook for some water. He looked like he was in his forties with a thin handlebar moustache and dark regal eyes that checked the surroundings like those of a falcon. The large load on his back appeared featherweight considering his slender but well definitioned frame. As he put down his load down for a drink, he greeted us and politely asked, “Are you gents here for a hunt?” We answered promptly “yes” only to hear his reply, “Hope you have had good luck!” We offered him to join us for a bite to eat and he gracefully accepted. Despite my buddy’s reserve and suspicion towards him (assuming he was yet another local villager that would give us no useful info), I liked the guy from the moment I laid my eyes on him. Shortly after he ate his ration of the food, he got up and quickly served us cowboy style tea from his dirty and soot-covered kettle that he must have owned and carried around the mountains for decades. He introduced himself as, “Yours truly, Noorali, a resident of one of the surroundings hamlets across the valley.” I asked him if he was into hunting and his response was, “More or less.” My next question was if there was any game in this country, to which he paused, gazed around from peak to peak at the mountain ranges surrounding us (and with a look from someone who doesn’t want to reveal his honey holes) responded, “Sometimes and there is everything.” I then asked him if he had seen them in person? He responded, “At times!”

My hunting partner who had been quiet up to this point got a tingling sensation from his responses resurrecting the hope that all of us mountain hunters live for and asked him the game’s whereabouts, to which he replied, “Right here in this same valley.” He was pointing specifically to a narrow gorge that separated the two adjacent peaks lying to our west. With nothing to lose but very tired bodies, we were contemplating whether to believe him or not when all of a sudden he said, “Not too far from here and I hope I can deliver.” We grabbed our rifles and followed Noorali on an old shale sheep trail that would lead us towards the gorge. We hadn’t gone more than half an hour when he stopped and said, “You folks seem tired. One of you should sit here behind this rock, well concealed and the other should climb with me another 500 yards and then get set up. I will then hike over the ridge and push the game towards you guys.” He even grabbed a stick and drew a line in the sand where he predicted the game would roughly cross. He was then gone and I set up to see what would come of his plan. After about one hour, seeing no signs of game and the fact that I am not partial to, nor fancy, this type of hunting, I decided to change locations to where I felt was a better trail for game to cross. Another 30 minutes passed, when suddenly, I heard the noise of rock fall and commotion. I could not see anything from where I was set up but quickly ran towards my original location only to see the white belly of the last billy that had crossed. Noorali showed up quickly after and asked me why I hadn’t shot, only to find me embarrassed of my decision about changing my location. The line that he had drawn in the soft dirt was now covered by hoof marks from the ibex. Seeing our disappointed faces, he quickly turned the mood and said, “Have no worries, I know where they would travel to and I hope we can intercept them.” We swiftly followed him up a steep slope that would eventually wrap around the bottom of the cliffs where he anticipated the ibex were headed. Once we got close to the top, we hunkered down and crawled to see that the ibex had calmed down and were in fact heading for the steep cliff bands that Noorali had predicted. He calmed my nerves and asked me to catch my breath before I was able to settle the cross hairs of my .270 behind the shoulder of the biggest billy. At the sound of the shot, the billy collapsed and we were excited beyond words. Before we could even get our packs and gear together, he was sitting on the ibex and had started the caping and cutting of the quarters. He turned to us and said, “I am glad I could deliver, but please be aware that if the mighty God didn’t intervene, not even a leaf would fall from a tree. Well done and glad you guys will not be going home empty handed.” With the entire ibex strapped to his pack, we started walking towards the truck. Along the way, he asked us where exactly we had hunted the previous days and was shocked to hear that we had seen no game. When we told him who our local guide was, he smiled and said, “That chap is very stingy and likes to keep all the game to himself. There is plenty of game where you hunted. Last year an army colonel almost killed him after he had posted him on a spot and gone behind him to scare the game off by waving his hat. He knows every rock in that country and also knows how to manipulate the game. If you happen to go back there, just mention my name and he will give you a better treatment.”

Upon arrival at the truck, we loaded all our gear, the ibex and his firewood and I insisted on giving him a ride back to his town. He accepted but not without repetitive insistence from both of us. During the ride, Noorali spoke about his life, his limited farming, his wife and their only child. He told us that he spent most of his time in the mountains and on his small farm and is thankful for what he has, praying that the good Lord would just maintain his health so that he would never have to beg or ask for anyone’s help.

Once the truck rolled past the last turn on the road, one could see the signs of a rundown village farther ahead. The shamble looks of that village amongst the pristine wilderness setting resembled a white silk cloth that had been scarred with a dark spot of ink. Upon arrival at his adobe shack, he insisted that we go in for some rest and tea and would not let go until we agreed. A flood of young children circled our beat up Jeep as though it was a luxury vehicle from another planet.

After that memorable day, we became good friends and every time I would venture into that country, I would look up Noorali and hunt with him. Despite his basic means and meager tools, he always treated me like royalty and our friendship got stronger as time went by. Noorali taught me grand lessons in life and my hunting days afield with him are some of the best I ever experienced. He looked at life from a very simple angle—and from way above. He taught me how to enjoy the little things in life despite having meager means and showed me how to be patient and thankful in times of nervousness and despair. He feared no one and nothing except God and often spoke of him during his short conversations. The lessons I learned from Noorali are not taught in any university, college or institution and I credit him greatly with making me a more humble person.

Noorali knew most of the game herds and had even nick names for some of the animals. In particular, there was an exceptionally large Billy with majestic scimitar horns that would touch his rump and estimated at around 150 cms long.

Five years went by and the idea of forming the new Department of Fish and Game was now being discussed amongst some of us living in the capital. (See the preamble at the beginning). The decision was made to put laws in place, seasons for hunting, hire and train local people and turn them into game wardens. I, of course, immediately thought of Noorali and decided to approach him shortly thereafter with the idea of working for this newly formed government entity as a game warden.

The following weekend, I made the trip to see Noorali and share with him my proposal, the law enforcement duties and the responsibilities that he would now have to comply with if he was to accept the game warden position. He laughed at the idea and said, “Pardon me sahib, but how is this possible? How can a man whose rifle’s shine spooks the game from miles away and who has, to date, been involved in the killing of over 500 heads of wild sheep and ibex now start to protect the game itself? All I have in life is God, this wilderness, this rifle and hunting—and the moment I put it down—I will meet the Creator. How can I now start protecting the same game that I have chased all my life? This is not possible. You are either a hunter or a protector, not both.” I calmly listened to his words and told him he was not to stop hunting but would have the extra responsibility of protecting the game and enforcing the laws. I spoke with him about the conservation movement in other countries and how it had helped bring back some of the game species that were near extinction. Although not convinced about the idea in general, he trusted me and said, “Whatever you say sahib, I will give it a go,” and accepted the position.

In just one year, after being issued a 8×57 Mauser carbine and a motorcycle for patrolling, he excelled in making sure all the local and visiting hunters were purchasing licenses and tags and kept the poachers under his watchful eyes to an extent that his assigned area was enlarged to include several other little villages and hamlets. Due to its prime location, his area was also declared a protected area with only a handful of selected tags for harvest.

I never fully imagined how Noorali’s new assignment and purpose would fare with his restless passion for hunting, but in a very short span of time, he changed dramatically from a poacher to a true conservationist. He understood the very essence of the conservation movement and how it benefitted the game. Cold nor heat mattered, and he would often be seen patrolling the areas he was responsible for with very little food or protection from the elements.

He had several run-ins with the local poachers whose very existence was now threatened—and in one occasion—narrowly escaped death from a poacher’s bullet that had struck his arm. Many times poachers would try to lure him into an area to get his attention away from game so they could execute their dirty animal killings, but he would use all his mountain wisdom and his connections to defuse their plans. He never trembled, stood his ground and treated the animals as though they were his children. In cliff bands and crags where not even a crow or pigeon would fly in the past, there were now ibex, grazing the slopes and watching for predators from above. He would proudly show off his efforts to visitors that drove by and felt like this was his new calling in life.

Noorali knew most of the game herds and had even nicknames for some of the animals. In particular, there was an exceptionally large billy with majestic scimitar horns that would touch his rump at what was estimated to be around 150 cms long. He was in love with this billy and had nicknamed him “Shomal” (translates to “North” in Farsi) and told me that in all those years of hunting and walking the numerous mountain ranges that he knew like the palm of his hands, that he was yet to see a billy like “Shomal”.

Noorali loved every creature in the mountains, but “Shomal” was his sweetheart. He would tell me that this billy would only come out when no one was in sight—and only in the early morning hours. His silhouette against the rimrocks and mountain tops would raise the heartbeat of any big game hunter. On one occasion, he took me to “Shomal’s” whereabouts and asked me to sit and wait while he climbed up some nasty and impassable cracks to push “Shomal” out of his den. I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of this magnificent creature for just a few seconds and realized then his love affair! “Shomal” was a dream billy, by all means of the imagination. On one occasion, when a hunter had by accident come across “Shomal” with Noorali, he would jolt the hunter’s hand at the moment of pulling the trigger to redirect the shot and evade killing “Shomal”. He just didn’t want this billy killed; that simple.

Unfortunately, the word got around that such a monster was in the area, and about a month later, on a cold, snowy day when Noorali was busy attending a different poaching problem in his vast area of jurisdiction, “Shomal” was killed and taken out. Upon receiving the news of this kill, Noorali rushed to the area to confirm the sad news, and with huge disappointment, he sat and glared at the steep rocky cliffs that “Shomal” had called his home for all those years. It was as though he had lost his only son and he weeped for 24 hours.

Shortly after, Noorali came to town. He surrendered his weapon, his badge and his motorcycle and said he could no longer do this.

He was shaken to his core by the incident, and in one week alone, had aged over ten years. As he signed his resignation, he started staring through the glass window at the hustle and bustle of people who were going by, doing their usual business. He wanted to have nothing to do with being a game warden any longer. For the first time, he stood firm and steadfast to all my requests to put the incident behind him and continue his post. He left the office and I heard through close sources that he moved to an unknown area far from his village and the wilderness that he so dearly loved and protected. It was as though his purpose in life had ended, seeing the demise of what was so dear to his heart.

Noorali was like a snowball; melting away and evaporating into the thin mountain air.

Epilogue: I presume it is now fair to give the readers a status of the current state of affairs with respect to conservation efforts in Persia. Although I have not visited that part of the world for over 37 years, I have been reading bits and pieces of information through correspondence with friends and on the web. From 1979 (fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty) to mid the 1990’s, chaos ruled and the game populations took a nosedive as a result of an excess of military-type armaments (G3 NATO battle rifles and Russian Kalashnikovs) in the hands of the general public, and in particular, remote villagers who killed game anonymously for subsistence and for profit.

Since then, two things have happened. First, fibers of government have realized the potential economic benefit of trophy hunting, hence providing more poaching control over previously protected areas and issuing a few tags for foreigners with deep pockets. Second, NGO’s with the participation of enthusiastic non-hunter youth nationals and support of foreign conservation organizations have stepped in to provide some level of protection for the game. The result of these efforts is evident in the quality of some of the trophy heads that have recently surfaced in the media by European, Russian and a few American hunters.

 


 

About the Author

Alexander Sharif is a principal structural engineer by trade working for Fluor Corporation with a great passion for anything to do with the outdoors and everything that involves a projectile. He is blessed with a great family, lives in Calgary, Alberta and enjoys a modest 200 plus days per year exploring and enjoying the great Canadian outdoors; hiking, biking, DH/XC/BC skiing, fly and ice fishing, tinkering with firearms, shooting and of course hunting big game, waterfowl and upland. He loves sharing his passions with his family and his close friends through his weekly pictorial slideshows and occasional articles..

 

Posted by JOMH Editor