The lifetimes of nonfixed holograms in LiNbO3:Fe crystals with doping levels of 0.05, 0.138, and 0.25 wt % Fe2O3 have been measured in the temperature range from 30 to 180 °C. The time constants of the dark decay of holograms stored in crystals with doping levels of 0.05 and 0.25 wt % Fe2O3 obey an Arrhenius-type dependence on absolute temperature T, but yield two activation energies: 1.0 and 0.28 eV, respectively. For these crystals, two different dark decay mechanisms are prevailing, one of which is identified as proton compensation and the other is due to electron tunneling between sites of Fe2+ and Fe3+. The dark decay of holograms stored in crystals with the doping level of 0.138 wt % Fe2O3 is the result of a combination of both effects. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.