Karkheh river marshes

Year of compilation: 1994

Site description
A 55-km stretch of the Karkheh river and adjacent marshy plains (3,500 ha of wetlands), c.35-90 km north-north-west of Ahwaz. The river flows in a deep channel with steep earth banks. Dense riverine forest of Tamarix and Populus euphraticus, up to several hundred metres wide, lines the river banks. The adjacent plains, largely cultivated with wheat, are dotted with shallow marshy depressions and meandering creeks which flood in winter.

Key biodiversity
See box for key species. The riverine forest supports a typical Mesopotamian bird fauna including large breeding populations of Hypocolius ampelinus and Passer moabiticus. The river and adjacent flood-plain are of some importance for wintering Pelecanus crispus and surface-feeding ducks. Other notable species are Ceryle rudis, Halcyon smyrnensis and Petronia xanthocollis.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: a tiny population of Dama mesopotamica (E) still survived along the Karkheh river until the early 1970s, but apparently became extinct in the mid- or late 1970s, leaving the population along the Dez river to the east as the only one known in the wild. Other species include Gazella subgutturosa (rare).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
A Protected Region of 18,125 ha was established in 1960 to protect the dwindling habitat of the deer. The reserve was reduced to 13,027 ha in the early 1970s, and re-notified partly as a Wildlife Refuge (3,600 ha) and partly as a Protected Area (9,427 ha). Much of the riparian forest has been degraded as a result of grazing by domestic livestock and cutting for fuel. The cultivated plains are subject to much disturbance from farming and hunting.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Karkheh river marshes. Downloaded from on 18/05/2022.