World Land Trust (WLT) has an opportunity to help create a new reserve in Armenia, following a visit by WLT founder John Burton to the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge.
As well as reviewing the conservation successes of WLT’s Armenian partner, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC), and presenting Keeper of the Wild Ranger Gor with a pair of binoculars donated by Swarovski, they found evidence of poaching in an area neighbouring the Refuge.
Including communities in conservation
WLT established a partnership with FPWC in 2010, after John met Ruben Khachatryan, an Armenian filmmaker turned conservationist who founded FPWC. Impressed by FPWC’s community-centred approach to conservation, WLT established a land acquisition project with them in Armenia.
Most of the land that is in private ownership in Armenia is owned by communities rather than individuals, so FPWC negotiates payment for long-term leases with the communities, in order to ensure the land is protected whilst benefiting the communities as well. John was able to see the benefits of this income on this visit, as a school which had been derelict a few years ago due to lack of maintenance had been refurbished using the funds that these leases had generated.
John believes FPWC’s work is very important for local communities; “I think the important thing about the lease agreements is that it gives the communities a commitment to the project. They also hire rangers from those communities to manage the reserves.”
“ Recruiting rangers locally is actually very important when you consider the social impact of their work, because you have to bear in mind that most of these rural areas in Armenia are depopulated by the male population. Most of the men have moved away to the capital or across to Russia to get work because there is virtually no work in the countryside. So there are no male role models in the villages, but employing rangers and sending them on environmental outreach work with schools changes that.”
Protecting a wildlife corridor from poachers
WLT has a long-term commitment to help create a corridor for wildlife between Khrosov State Park and reserves in Iran near the Azerbaijan border, which are all important areas for the survival of Caucasian Leopard. They harbour healthy populations of Mouflon, the wild sheep, and Bezoar, the wild goat/ibex, which is the main prey of the Caucasian Leopard. Protecting these species from hunting provides a better food source for the Leopard (and having healthy wild populations means less Leopard and Wolf predation on livestock).
John, Simon and David saw the importance of placing land under the watch of rangers when Ruben took them to see an area which is not currently under FPWC protection. John said “Unfortunately one of the first things we saw was evidence of poaching. In late June wildlife is supposedly protected during the closed hunting season, but we found the remains of a freshly killed Bezoar Goat that had obviously been barbequed, with ammunition and rubbish lying all around it.”
“The local communities know about the problem and they are not the hunters. All this type of hunting is coming from outside and the local communities want to lease the land to FPWC so they can protect it properly. ”
WLT aims to raise funds for a lease on the area described above. To read more about the site visit to Armenia, the work of the rangers and the mountain landscape, read our interview with Simon Barnes here.