Caucasus Wildlife Refuge: Pioneering Private Conservation in Armenia

Full Solution
Bezoar ibex in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge

The Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (CWR) is a privately protected area managed by the FPWC. Having grown from 400 to 20000 hectares since 2010, the refuge stretches along the border of Khosrov Forest State Nature Reserve (IUCN Ia category). The overall objective of the CWR is to contribute to efficient biodiversity protection in Armenia by improving the conservation measures in the reserve’s previously unsustainably managed buffer zones and wildlife migration corridors. This is done by interlinking sustainable community development, conservation and behaviour change.

FPWC maintains a permanently manned ranger station in the area (6 rangers are employed from the community), which is sufficiently equipped to protect the territory against any negative human impact. The rangers are patrolling the 8000ha at a 24/7 regime preventing any illegal activity in the area, as well as monitoring the animals by applying newest technologies. CWR is the only project of this type in the entire South Caucasus.

Last update: 02 Oct 2020
Challenges addressed
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness

The current state of conservation practices in Armenia result from decades of land assignments, policies, and management. The current laws, codes and forest policies have been almost identical to their Soviet-period counterparts. They declare that all reserves are property of the state and have to be managed only by the state. The enforcement and implementation of laws and policies is very weak and irresolute. The low priority has been given to the revision and modernization of environmental laws and policies in Armenian legislature. 
In the first years of work especially, we've continuously had to deal with the rural communities' reluctance of collaboration, caused by distrust and poor understanding of how they can contribute to conservation. This mentality was caused by decades of  detachment from active engagement in the protection and management of nature reserves.
Illegal hunting, illegal logging and unregulated grazing still remain a challenge. 

Scale of implementation
Rangeland / Pasture
Temperate deciduous forest
River, stream
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Species management
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Science and research
East Europe
Summary of the process

In progress. 

Building Blocks
Regenerating Sustainable Communities

Through the Soviet period and after independence, Armenian society in general and rural communities in particular have continuously been discouraged from taking active role in the protection and management of nature reserves.
Recognizing the urgent need for communities living around protected areas to actively participate in and benefit from the conservation of the resources upon which they depend, the FPWC, since 2006, has consistently contributed to the communities’ environmental, social, economic, and cultural development, thus referring to all four dimensions of sustainability.
The community development project promotes a new sustainable development strategy for the villages all around Armenia, with a focus on the areas adjacent to the CWR.

It aims to improve the livelihoods of rural people and to foster sustainable rural development as a holistic approach. This strategy links economic and infrastructure improvements with nature conservation and the protection of the environment by offering inhabitants of remote villages incentives and opportunities to gain income by using/managing natural resources sustainably.

Enabling factors

Winning trust of the communities by proven positive impact happening within them is a key enabling factor. Parallel to conservation work, FPWC has been introducing renewable energy solutions to dozens of communities; constructing / renovating infrastructures for drinking / irrigation water, building capacity and creating employment and income opportunities for the communities. These and more hugely contributed to building trust toward FPWC's work in conservation; willingness to learn, understand and contribute; compassion and solidarity. 

Lesson learned

Mistrust and resistance developed on the background of factors such as role of the government as only owner of the nature reserves, centralized administration,  lack of consideration for local and societal input for conservation planning and management, as well as corruption,  lack of attention to the environmental sector by legislators were major challenges FPWC faced while approaching the communities with an offer of partnership and participation. 
As the CWR grows, engaging communities still takes time and consistency, but it is only complicated to the point until the "first ice melts". Then it becomes contagious, turning into a growing wave making its own way. 
Starting working in only a few communities more than 10 years ago, communicating patiently the benefits of conservation to them, using different localized methodologies, tackling with distrust and resistence, FPWC is now at a place where more and more communities turn for collaboration on their own initiative, bringing forward their commitment to common ideas and willingness to invest for their implementation. 

Amending the Law

In 2016, at the IUCN World Congress, FPWC co-authored Motion 37 on Supporting Privately Protected Areas, which was one of the top discussed documents at the congress and passed with a majority of votes. This became a crucial step in the FPWC’s efforts to lobby the Armenian government to adopt policies that recognize, encourage and monitor privately protected areas as a key contribution to national and international conservation targets and to implement mechanisms for integrating privately protected areas into national system. FPWC continues to promote legal and financial incentives for the maintenance and strengthening of privately protected areas, to have the respective category highlighted in the Law of the Republic of Armenia on Specially Protected Natural Areas.
Since 2015, FPWC has had a tangible contribution in elaborating amendments package for the Law of the Republic of Armenia on Fauna,  in collaboration with the Ministry of Nature Protection. 
FPWC has been a member of GSP+ monitoring system for international environmental conventions and protocols such as CBD or CITES.

Enabling factors

Collaboration, consistency and constructive approach with the state institutions such as the MInistry of Nature Protection and international organizations such as European Union has been a key factor for the success in this segment. 

Lesson learned

Working with the government is not the easiest but a necessary component to secure the work implemented and having it recognized officially. 


While in 2010 wildlife in the area was nearly nonexistent – mainly due to illegal hunting – trap cameras located all over the CWR now show growing numbers of rare and red listed animals, such as the Bezoar ibex, Brown bear, Bearded vulture, Golden eagles, as well as common species such as the Caucasian lynx, martens, badgers, grey wolves, foxes, hares.
In 2013 the trap cameras spotted a male Caucasian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor). 

FPWC has linked the CWR with Yerevan Zoo to create a unique regional focal point for the breeding and reintroduction of rare South-Caucasian species into the wild.
The Eco Lodge built in CWR serves to raise the local population’s capacities to adopt more environmental friendly and sustainable practices. The center offers accommodation for eco-tourism, as well as local and international students / scientists, who conduct  field research in the area. 
Rural communities are involved in FPWC's conservation efforts and get direct benefits, including annual lease funds into the community budget, (self)employment opportunities, renewable energy solutions introduced in the communal buildings, improved water supply network / access to drinking or irrigation water, organic farming development etc.
SunChild eco-clubs (since 2006) engage youth and children in conservation actions by combining theory and practice in the original curriculum.


FPWC's holistic approach embraces in various targeted projects rural communities, children and youth, women, local and state authorities, farmers, scientific and educational institutions. All the project are designed in a way to benefit wildlife.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Vardahovit community lands, Vayots Dzor province, Armenia

In 2017, Vardahovit, a small village in southeastern end of Armenia, donated 2000 hectares of community lands to the FPWC for perpetuity. This case is very special in the context that since 2016 geoprospecting works were carried in the community lands by a major mining company for polymetallic ores. The community made a participatory decision to turn down the company’s financial offer for land leasing, and donate the lands for conservation to the FPWC. Monitoring has to be implemented in the newly attained land as the area forms a part of the wildlife corridor. FPWC will be developing sustainable tourism, organic farming and small business in the community by increasing the capacity of locals and enhancing new income opportunities for farmers and community people.

Another showcase is Gnishik, a small community in Vayots Dzor province, that, despite multifaceted pressures to lease the community land as a hunting ground to local oligarchs, chose to donate the land to the FPWC. The community has a biodiversity of extreme value. It lists 889 plants, the 47out of which are red listed. Furthermore, the flora counts 48 endemic plants for the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, out of which 16 are Armenian endemics. The fauna counts 151 vertebrates and 217 invertebrates among which 57 species listed in the Red Book of Armenia, including Armenian viper, Bezoar goat, Armenian mouflon, European Wild cat, the Caucasian leopard, Trans-caucasian water shrew, Horseshoe bat, brown bear etc. Comprehensive study, research and monitoring works need to be carried out to form the entire picture of the biodiversity in Gnishik area. The mayors of both communities are very supportive to FPWC’s work and advocate for elimination of poaching and biodiversity conservation.

Connect with contributors
Other contributors
Eva Martirosyan
Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets
Ruben Khachatryan
Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets