FPWC began in 2002 to address a lack of environmental concern in Armenia since its independence in 1991. It established the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge in 2011 through the leasing of land from local communities. Their work takes place within the Caucasus Biodiversity Hotspot and is focused on the connections between wildlife protection and environmental education. They engage with rural populations to assist with the sustainable development of their communities. Mutual respect between human beings, natural wealth, and cultural heritage is at the centre of their operations.
FPWC was founded by Armenian filmmaker Ruben Khachatryan alongside zoologist Hrach Ghazaryan. The organisation is rooted in the need to illustrate Armenia’s unique natural heritage and raise awareness of conservation issues, especially among young people.
In 2011, FPWC created the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge with the support of WLT and others to safeguard part of the Caucasus Biodiversity Hotspot. So far, they have safeguarded over 26,000 hectares in the mountains of Armenia. In 2016, they established the first native tree nursery in Armenia which has aims to help reforest and restore this degraded landscape.
Since its creation, the rangers who take care of this refuge have been employed from local villages. Each day they navigate the undulating mountainous terrain of the refuge to conduct daily patrols, looking out for signs of threatened species and illegal hunting activity. They also play a vital role in firefighting when wildfires break out.
FPWC has enlisted over a dozen communities across Armenia’s Ararat and Vayots Dzor provinces to ensure the long-term sustainability of the reserve. The people in the region cede land to the refuge and benefit through lease payments and other support provided by FPWC which they can use to make improvements to their villages.
WLT has been partnered with FPWC since 2010, and the support provided is focused on the maintenance and protection of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. This is the first privately protected area in the South Caucasus and secures vital habitat where species from Europe, Asia and the Middle East meet.
In 2023, WLT launched a Plant a Tree appeal to support FPWC with funds to plant 700,000 trees between 2023-2027.
Caucasus Wildlife Refuge
This project will restore 300 hectares of degraded habitat in Armenia’s Caucasus Wildlife Refuge – located in one of the world’s most extraordinarily biodiverse and threatened regions. To do so, around 700,000 trees will be planted, taken from a variety of over nine different native tree species. These have been carefully selected according to the needs of the local context and the sparse Juniper forest ecosystem which has experienced severe deforestation over recent decades. This ensures the right trees are planted in the right place.
Reforestation is key to improve the overall conservation status of an area once carpeted in high-altitude oak and ancient juniper woodland. Large tracts of forest were lost due to logging during Armenia’s post-Soviet years and a compilation of issues including illegal logging, overgrazing, and human-induced wildfires prevent natural regeneration.
Additionally, Armenia is affected by climate change more than the global average. This area is thus witnessing firsthand the escalating impacts of the climate crisis. Increased droughts and wildfires due to periods of very dry weather are becoming more common. This project will thus carry out the active reforestation desperately needed in the refuge.
A fundamental aspect of this project that WLT supports is the land management agreements FPWC makes with local communities. The targeted areas for reforestation consist of rural community lands which are leased by FPWC. These are then integrated into the CWR privately protected area managed by FPWC. Local people benefit from these lease payments as they are able to use them to make improvements to their villages.
WLT also supports FPWC in the employment of rangers from local communities who steward and care for the refuge. Each day the rangers navigate the mountainous terrain of the refuge to conduct daily patrols, always keeping an eye out for signs of threatened species and illegal hunting activity. They also play a vital role in firefighting when wildfires break out.
Community benefits have long been built into the conservation of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. This project will offer environmental jobs to communities affected by emigration. Both seasonal workers and all year-round positions in the tree nursery will be employed for this project. For the tree planting, FPWC also works with local people who know the landscape well, and carefully collect and process seeds of local native tree species. FPWC is planting native fruit trees which offer species, such as bears, vital food sources. In the long term FPWC hope this will help to reduce instances of conflicts between humans and bears which occur in the region.
The mountains and slopes of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge are a major watershed for downstream communities. However, they are increasingly affected by periods of drought. This tree planting programme will help reverse and prevent the drying out of water sources.
Plants and animals
The trees planted through this project will offer habitat for 44 different mammal species, including endangered wildlife, in which they can travel, feed, and rest. These include Syrian Brown Bear, Grey Wolf, and Eurasian Lynx, as well as a rare and Endangered subspecies of Mouflon. This project will also help reforest one of only a few areas left for the 8-13 Endangered Caucasian Leopards to live.
The bird diversity in the refuge is remarkable, hosting roughly 150 bird species. This includes all four of Armenia’s vultures, Griffon, Cinereous, Bearded, and Egyptian, as well as globally threatened species like Eastern Imperial Eagle (Vulnerable) and Sociable Lapwing (Critically Endangered).
Each native tree species selected for this reforestation project has been selected for its specific role in the ecosystem. Wild Pear, Wild Apple, and Common Barberry offer fruits high in nutrition for animals, whilst the acorns from Oak trees are key in the diet of wild boars. Meanwhile, Juniper is used by vultures for nesting and Russian olive, when planted in riparian areas, helps mitigate river erosion.
SunChild Eco-club network
SunChild provides environmental education for children and youth mostly located in remote rural communities. Notably, FPWC encourages children to learn wildlife photography and filmmaking dedicated to local environmental issues.
SunChild International Environmental Festival
Organised annually since 2007, the festival program includes wildlife and environmental films from all over the world, as well as workshops, exhibitions, media campaigns designed to raise awareness about the growing global challenge of nature conservation.
FPWC focuses on ecotourism to create economic opportunities for rural Armenians, and build respectful relationships between cultural heritage and nature. As part of this initiative, FPWC established a Lodge which serves as a venue for scientific conferences and eco-tourism development centre.
Wildlife Rescue Centre (WRC)
FPWC founded WRC in 2016 in cooperation with Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection and Ministry of Emergency Situations. The WRC’s mission is to rescue and care for all injured wild animals. Notably, WRC has a long-term rescue project to tackle the widespread issue of captive brown bears in Armenia.
Awards and other achievements
In 2022, FPWC’s Ranger Team was awarded the 2022 World Commission on Protected Areas International Ranger Awards by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Director and Founder of FPWC: Ruben Khachatryan