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Location Iran, Islamic Republic of, Sistan and Baluchestan
Central coordinates 61o 10.00' East  31o 10.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2, B3
Area 293,030 ha
Altitude 470 m
Year of IBA assessment 1994

Site description The Sistan basin, at c.470 m on the border between Iran and Afghanistan, contains a complex of freshwater lakes with extensive reedbeds which at times of peak flooding can cover over 200,000 ha. These wetlands are unusual in that the three main lakes, Hamoun-i Puzak (see site 088), Hamoun-i Sabari and Hamoun-i Hirmand, are predominantly freshwater despite lying within an internal drainage basin. The system lies in an extremely arid region, and receives the great bulk of its water from the Hirmand (Helmand), Fara and several other smaller rivers rising in the highlands of central and northern Afghanistan. During long droughts, as in the late 1960s and mid-1980s, these rivers supply sufficient water to flood only the uppermost of the lakes, Hamoun-i Puzak, which lies almost entirely within Afghanistan. However, during years of unusually heavy rain, as in the late 1970s and 1989-1991, the floodwaters sweep through all three lakes and overflow into a vast salt waste to the south-east, flushing the salts out of the system in the process. The Hamoun-i Sabari (31°20'N 61°20'E; up to 101,300 ha), about half of which lies in Iran, receives water from the Fara Rud, which enters in the north-east (in Afghanistan), and overflow from the Hamoun-i Puzak to the east. The Hamoun-i Hirmand (30°50'N 61°15'E; up to 65,600 ha) receives water from the southern (Sistan) branch of the Hirmand and overflow from the Hamoun-i Sabari to the north. During flooding, both lakes support extensive growths of Phragmites, Typha, Carex and Tamarix, as well as abundant submerged aquatic vegetation, but very little emergent growth has re-appeared since the drought of the early and mid-1980s. Other habitats include extensive mudflats, saltmarshes and bare saltflats. The wetlands are bordered to the east and south by vast desertic plains, those to the south consisting of extensive bare saltflats and sparsely vegetated sandy plains with dune areas and some Tamarix scrub. In the west, the hamouns are bounded by a line of low earth cliffs at the edge of a vast undulating desert plain. An isolated flat-topped volcanic plug (Kuh Khvajeh) rises abruptly out of the marshes to 609 m on the east side of Hamoun-i Hirmand and has a ruined settlement of considerable archaeological interest. Much of the land around Zabol and its many satellite villages east of the hamouns is under irrigated cultivation. Livestock grazing, reed-cutting and fishing occur in the wetlands, and in recent years the lakes have been stocked with grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella. The land is publicly owned.

Key Biodiversity See box for key species. The wetlands are extremely important as a staging and wintering area for a wide variety of waterbirds, notably pelicans, herons, dabbling ducks and shorebirds, and in years of high water level are also important for many breeding species. Comprehensive ground and aerial censuses between 1969/70 and 1975/76 indicated that numbers of ducks and geese wintering in the Iranian portion of the Sistan wetlands varied from almost nil in exceptionally dry years (e.g. 1970/71) to over 700,000 in wet years (e.g. 1972/73). There has been a dramatic decline in numbers since then, and this has been attributed to the prolonged drought of the early and mid-1980s and large-scale degradation of the aquatic vegetation. The lush vegetation around the wetlands provides a staging area for large numbers of migratory landbirds, while the surrounding deserts support a typical desert avifauna. Other notable species include Circus aeruginosus (over 15 pairs breeding), Aquila clanga, Falco pelegrinoides, Porphyrio porphyrio, Pterocles senegallus, Bubo bubo, Caprimulgus aegyptius, Melanocorypha bimaculata, Ammomanes cincturus, Alauda gulgula, Motacilla citreola and Sylvia nana. Phylloscopus trochiloides nitidus has occurred on autumn passage. At least 170 species have been noted at the site.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V), Caracal caracal (rare), Gazella subgutturosa (rare) and Gazella dorcas fuscifrons (V).

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Northern Pintail Anas acuta winter  1970-1977  300,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Greylag Goose Anser anser winter  1977-1992  2,200-2,600 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea winter  1977-1992  45-666 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna winter  1970-1977  1,600 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Gadwall Mareca strepera winter  1970-1977  13,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope winter  1970-1977  5,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos winter  1970-1977  36,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata winter  1970-1977  10,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Teal Anas crecca winter  1970-1977  222,500 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Pochard Aythya ferina winter  1970-1977  4,110 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Vulnerable 
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca breeding  1977  5-10 breeding pairs  good  B1i, B2  Near Threatened 
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia breeding  1977  120 breeding pairs  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris breeding  1973  20-30 breeding pairs  good  B1i, B2  Least Concern 
Great White Egret Ardea alba winter  1970-1977  2,150 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus winter  1970-1977  1,300 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus winter  1977-1992  75-88 individuals  good  A1, A4i, B1i  Vulnerable 
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus resident  1977  5 breeding pairs  good  A1, B2  Near Threatened 
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga winter  1977  5 individuals  good  B2  Vulnerable 
White-tailed Sea-eagle Haliaeetus albicilla winter  1977  13 individuals  good  A1, B2  Least Concern 
Himantopus himantopus breeding  1977  100 breeding pairs  good  B1i  Not Recognised 
Himantopus himantopus passage  1977  790 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Not Recognised 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta winter  1977  100 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa non-breeding  1977  550 individuals  good  B1i  Near Threatened 
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa winter  1970-1977  300 individuals  good  B1i  Near Threatened 
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus winter  1970-1977  2,860 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida breeding  1977  300-400 breeding pairs  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus resident  1977  34 breeding pairs  good  A3  Least Concern 
Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius breeding  1977  present  A3  Least Concern 
Grey Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus breeding  1977  frequent  A3  Least Concern 
Pale Crag-martin Hirundo obsoleta breeding  1977  frequent  A3  Least Concern 
Greater Hoopoe-lark Alaemon alaudipes resident  1977  common  A3  Least Concern 
Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura resident  1977  abundant  A3  Least Concern 
White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis resident  1977  common  A3  Least Concern 
Small Whitethroat Sylvia minula passage  1977  25 individuals  good  B3  Least Concern 
Dead Sea Sparrow Passer moabiticus resident  1977  uncommon  B3  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1970-1977  500,000-999,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

1994 medium not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - large dams likely in long term (beyond 4 years) majority/most of area/population (50-90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Hamoun Protected Area 293,030 protected area contained by site 193,500  
Hamun-e-Saberi and Hamun-e-Helmand Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 50,000 protected area contained by site 50,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   major
Desert   major
Wetlands (inland)   67%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research 83%
rangeland/pastureland major
other major
Notes: reed-cutting
fisheries/aquaculture major
agriculture major

Acknowledgements Data-sheet compiled by Dr D. A. Scott, reviewed by Dept of Environment.

References Carp (1980), Firouz et al. (1970), IUCN (1991), Ramsar Convention Bureau (1993), Scott (1975a, 1976a,b,c, 1978a,b, 1991, in press), Summers et al. (1987).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Hamoun-i Sabari and Hamoun-i Hirmand. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016

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