Nature Conservation in the Tien Shan Mountains
Since the beginning of the 1990s, our work in Kyrgyzstan, in the fragile high mountainous region of Central Asia, has centred on protecting endangered species, establishing protected areas, environmental education and supporting non-governmental organisations.
Protecting Snow Leopards – the rare big cats from the mountains of eternal ice
The snow leopard is threatened with extinction from hunting for its fur and bones, poaching and illegal trade. NABU, in cooperation with the Kyrgyz government, is implementing a programme to conserve this species. An important part of the programme is preventing illegal hunting and trade of the endangered species. An anti-poaching squad tracks dealers and hunters and seizes any snow leopards that are still alive.
Three of the saved snow leopards now live in the outdoor enclosure in Kyrgyzstan that is the largest of its type in the world and is jointly supported by NABU and Care for the Wild International. Due to the severe damage they received to their paws from the foothold traps laid out by the poachers, Alcu, Kunak and Bagira cannot be reereleased into the wild. A female snow leopard, Dshamilja, was brought to Germany due to her severe inju-ries and now lives in Zurich Zoo. She has been included in the European Endangered Species Programme for breeding and thus helps to ensure the survival of her species outside of her native habitat.
Dedication to species conservation
The establishment of the NABU Wildlife Centre in the small town of Karakol is an important foundation for species conservation and environmental education in Kyrgyzstan. The remodelled zoo offers visitors a fascinating insight into the endangered wildlife of Central Asia and aims to win over children and young people – the potential poachers or animal protectors of tomorrow – to develop a love for nature and animal conservation. The Centre has several thousand visitors a year, including many school groups.
The centre primarily cares for injured animals that have been saved by the anti-poaching squad or that have been brought in by members of the public. Visitors can get a firsthand experience of highly endangered species, such as the Marco Polo sheep, the Siberian ibex and many birds of prey that are being protected in their new home and receiving the care that they urgently need. In 2004, for example, over 120 Saker falcons were saved by the anti-poaching squad. All the confiscated animals that, after careful checks, are deemed fit enough, are re-released into the wild after a recovery period.
Protected areas are important refuges
In 1996 the 43,000 square kilometre large UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at Issyk Kul was established after a long-term cooperation with the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). The area includes the second largest mountain lake in the world that has an area of 6,200 square kilometres and the surrounding Tien Shan Mountains, which are home to many rare and endangered species.
As the governmental nature protection offices are often overloaded with the management of the area due to financial shortcomings, NABU has come up with the concept of privately owned protected areas combined with suitable environmental education in participation with the local population. The first pilot areas were set up on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul to protect the orchid meadows and rare birds found there.
Strengthening civil society
Our partner organisation NABU Kirgistan implements nature conservation work on the ground. The organisation was founded in 2002 with the support of NABU Germany and is now considered to be the most important nature conservation and species protection society in Kyrgyzstan. The organisation is currently going through the admission procedure to be the Kyrgyz partner of the BirdLife International network. The society implements environmental edu-cation programmes, carries out nationwide monitoring programmes for plant and animal species on behalf of the Kyrgyz government, to be used in the compilation of the Red List of endangered species, and establishes protected areas alongside doing political work.
More than 50 volunteers, 30 members and about 30 staff support the organisation, which is based in the capital city Bishkek.
The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the smallest countries in Central Asia with an area of almost 200,000 square kilometres. The country shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Large sections of the country are part of the Tien Shan mountain range. In the south of the country are the Alay mountains, the Trans Alay mountains and the foothills of the Pamir mountain range. Altogether more than 50 percent of the country’s total area is higher than 2,500 metres above sea level. Steppe and alpine vegetation predominate the landscape; glaciers and eternal snow cover over 3 percent of the country’s total area. The climate in Kyrgyzstan is conti-nental with a small amount of rainfall.
The Kyrgyz Republic has both industrial and agricultural sectors although the agriculture sector is the more important of the two. Thanks to an intensive irrigation system, cotton, grains, fruit, tobacco and silk are produced. Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries of the world; 34 percent of the population live under the minimum poverty line. The intensive process of rebuilding the economy is continuing; the country is still emerging from the consequences of the end of the old trading relationships with the Soviet Union. Despite having natural resources of its own, Kyrgyzstan is reliant on many different types of imported goods, including crude oil and natural gas.
The Kyrgyz people are descendants of several different nomadic Turkish ethnic groups in Central Asia and were first mentioned in writing in 201 BC. On 31 August 1991 the Kyrgyz Republic declared its independence after almost 150 years of Rus-sian rule. The country has many different ethnic groups including Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, Germans and others. The majority of the population are Sunni Muslims.
Thanks to the wide variety of different habitats, ranging from mountains to deserts, an abundance of different species has evolved. Many of the species are endemic, i.e. they can only be found here. The Tien Shan Mountains are one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots.
20,000 species (that accounts for 8 percent of all of the species that have been classified around the world) live here in 0.13 percent of the world’s land mass: around 4,500 plant species, 83 mammal species, 368 bird species, 28 reptile species and 3,000 species of insect have been recorded.
Threats to the Environment
Kyrgyzstan has an abundance of natural resources. Although they are mostly only found in small quantities, it is thought by some that Kyrgyzstan has the largest gold deposit in the world. However, the exploitation of the country’s raw materials, such as in the Kumtor gold mine in the south of the country, causes serious environmental pollution and destruction. The explosives used in mining destroy mountains and glaciers and the air, soil and water suffer from large-scale pollution from chemicals, heavy metals, oil and radioactive materials. This has already happened in the Chu valley, the Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces and the areas around the tributaries to Lake Issyk Kul.
Kyrgyzstan’s wildlife and environment are also suffering from inefficient agricultural systems, land degradation and old and ailing irrigation systems. Around 60 percent of the soil in the country is affected by soil erosion, six percent of potential agricultural areas are unusable due to salt pollution from incorrect irrigation methods. Unsettled land ownership issues have led to a concentration of traditional land-use practices such as animal husbandry causing overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion – all problems that Kyrgyzstan will have for a long time to come.
Poverty forces the population to consume increasing amounts of natural resources to fulfil their basic needs. There are over 600 species of wild plants that are used as food and for medicinal purposes. Illegal fishing and hunting for rare animals such as the Siberian ibex or the Marco Polo sheep can provide a family with meat for a few meals or through sale on the black market, can fetch a high price that is often a lot more than a year’s income.
The natural paradise of Kyrgyzstan, with its majestic mountaintops and rare animal species, like the Marco Polo sheep, the Himalayan brown bear and the Siberian ibex, is a centre of attraction for international trophy hunting tourism. Corrupt state officials, shooting licences given out readily, lax customs checks and high profits, all form a vicious circle that’s hard to break. The number of international hunting firms active in Kyrgyzstan has increased in the last few years to more than 80 companies. Similarly, international animal smugglers are taking advantage of the uncertain circumstances in the country and are posing an even greater threat to animal populations that have already been reduced and made unstable from loss of habitat.
Wild Landscape Kyrgyzstan
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