World Land Trust (WLT) funds two rangers in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (CWR), Manuk Manukyan and Gor Hovhanissyan. Vicky Mkrtchyan, Environmental Projects Coordinator at the Foundation for the Preservation of Cultural and Wildlife Assets (FPWC), sent us this report of their activities.
The winter of 2013/14 brought icy temperatures and masses of snow to the South Caucasus. The snow was up to a metre deep in places and in higher parts, where the wind blows faster, snow cover reached up to three metres. The temperature in the CWR plummeted to -27 degrees centigrade, which was much more severe than expected.
Some parts of the CWR were inaccessible either by car or on horseback. As it was foggy all around it was also difficult to observe the animals in the area.
However there were regular sightings of Bezoar Goats. Whereas a year ago, in 2012, rangers would record 23 individuals at the most in one herd during the mating season, by the end of November 2013 they had already observed a herd of 40 individuals headed by a huge Bezoar buck.
Bezoar Goats can now be seen just 500-1,500 metres from the ranger station. They are now bold enough to come down to the river to drink water and even come close to the Urtsadzor Eco-Training Centre, which was inaugurated in 2013.
Rangers also now see Bezoar Goats gather for grazing mainly in the early mornings or evenings at Dahnak and Khosrovasar mountains. The sightings of male Bezoars became increasingly regular during the year, and it is likely that there will be competition among the males.
Rangers also report that they have seen more wolves together with a report that one of them attacked a domestic animal in the village.
Another surprise was waiting for us early in January: an attack of hungry hares. FPWC rangers have never before encountered hares so close to the rangers station in winter. It seems they were attracted by the new saplings as there are no other young trees in the territory. After consulting with WLT, FPWC took immediate action and protected the trees with tree guards. A fox, one of the hare’s natural predators has also been spotted close to the ranger station so perhaps there will be a natural solution to the threat to our trees.
During the winter the rangers didn’t have any sighting of the Caucasian Leopard, although a camera-trap recorded a leopard on 8 November. With the spring approaching we hope that we’ll be able to record our leopard safe and sound.
Among the birds sighted in the reporting period (October 2013 – February 2014) were Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus), Cinereous Vultures (Aegypius monachus) and many Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar). There were also sightings of Grey Partridges (Perdix perdix).
Protecting the reserve
The rangers continue to patrol the area 24/7. At the moment they have just one jeep, but soon they will have another urgently needed vehicle thanks to funds provided by WLT.
In 2014 FPWC will be hiring a fifth ranger for better protection of the CWR. Due to our ongoing work in the CWR and the other rangers’ enthusiasm for their work we do not think it will be long before we find a suitable candidate.
Thankfully no shots were heard this season because during heavy winters hunters do not dare hunt in the mountains for fear of avalanches.
During the reporting period FPWC started mapping the protected area in order to define the borders of the CWR and to develop an ecotourism map.
The mapping exercise will also enable us to create maps of sightings of mammals, birds and predators, which will help scientists and researchers with their biodiversity surveys.