The achievements of two rural communities in the Caucasus mountains in Armenia have been recognised by World Land Trust and International Animal Rescue at a presentation in the House of Lords.
World Land Trust’s (WLT) partner, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC), has worked with the communities of rural villages Gnishik and Vardahovit for years towards goals of sustainable town development and environment conservation.
FPWC has been rescuing Brown Bears, as last year there were more than 150 bears illegally kept in small cages for public entertainment in Armenia. FPWC opened the first Wildlife Rescue Centre in Armenia in December 2017 for rescued bears, and other wildlife, funded by International Animal Rescue (IAR).
Rescuing and rehabilitating bears
At a reception in the House of Lords, IAR and WLT presented the mayors of Gnishik and Vardahovit with certificates and awards recognising their communities’ support of the programme (the awards had been built using repurposed pieces of a cage which had once held two of the rescued bears captive outside a restaurant). The mayor of Urtsadzor, Rafik Andreasyan, also received the awards but was unable to visit the UK for the ceremony.
The two communities have recently donated 5,822 acres (2356 hectares) of land to FPWC to protect the mountainous habitat of Armenian wildlife such as the Caucasian Leopard, Eurasian Lynx, Brown Bear, Grey Wolf, Armenian Mouflon and Bezoar Ibex. The Brown Bear rescue programme aims to release all rehabilitated bears into the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (CWR).
Ara Levonyan, Mayor of Gnishik, spoke to WLT staff during a visit to the Suffolk office, saying “From our point of view, the land we have donated is not as important as the big picture of our communities collaborating with FPWC and WLT. Visiting the UK has firmed up this partnership and enabled us to gain a better understanding of WLT which we can take back to our communities.”
“As the backdrop of where we grew up, it is easy for us to take our wildlife for granted. But receiving this international support for the conservation and welfare of our species has really started to show us the importance of our wildlife on a global scale.”
Samvel Gevorgyan, Mayor of Vardahovit, added “Our community is so proud to be working with FPWC, who have proved their commitment not just to environment conservation, but also to the sustainable development of our towns.”
Ruben Khachatryan, Founder and Director of FPWC, explained the importance of community collaboration, “We believe in a participatory approach which involves the whole community in our projects, which range from the bear rescue and wildlife conservation to town development projects such as installing street lighting, renovating schools, and developing sustainable incomes.
“One of our long-term goals is to develop a corridor of land owned by communities like Vardahovit and Gnishik to protect a migration route for our large mammals like the leopards and wolves. We are currently working with more than 15 communities, and the success of these projects has given us hope that we can continue to expand this model across the landscape for the benefit of both communities and wildlife in the future.”
WLT and FPWC have been working together since 2010, protecting the rugged landscape of the Caucasus Mountains in Armenia through land purchase and long-term leases of community-owned land, primarily supported by the Action Fund. WLT also supports the salary of two rangers working to protect wildlife in the CWR through the Keepers of the Wild programme.