Using monitoring data to create protected areas and wildlife corridors for saiga conservation

Albert Salemgareyev/ACBK
Published: 22 September 2022
Last edited: 23 September 2022
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Summary

The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (Altyn Dala) project aims to establish a network of protected areas within the historic boundaries of the Betpak-Dala saiga population to effectively protect saiga, their endangered steppe and semi-desert habitat, and other flagship species including great bustards and sociable lapwing. Once completed, this network of protected areas is anticipated to cover 3 to 5 million hectares.

 

To gather data on saiga's migrations and help inform the national authorities on the need to design and establish new protected areas and ecological corridors, the experts are relying on the information collected with the help of satellite collars - as it allows the experts to understand the long-term impacts of infrastructure developments on saiga movements and population recovery.

Classifications

Region
North and Central Asia
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Cold desert
Desert ecosystems
Theme
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Outreach & communications
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Monitoring and Research
Challenges
Extreme heat
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Poaching
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of technical capacity
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Sendai Framework
Target 6: Enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030

Location

Yrgyz, Yrgyz District, Aktobe, Kazakhstan | Altyn Dala, Yrgyz-Torgai-Zhylanshyk

Challenges

The first challenge faced was the lack of a management plan. One of the priorities of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative is the efficient management of protected areas. The Altyn Dala Reserve, which aims to protect the calving and migration areas of the Betpak Dala saiga population, had no official management plan, so a seminar was held to develop one.

 

The second challenge was related to the capacity to carry out the monitoring: training courses for state inspectors and scientific researchers on using GPSs, collecting monitoring information and entering the data into a recently improved database were also held.

 

The third challenge identified was poaching. The project was also developed to support anti-poaching activities in the Altyn Dala and Irgiz Turgay State Nature Reserves, to improve conditions for state rangers at reserves and their anti-poaching effectiveness.

Beneficiaries

The beneficiaries of this solution were the wildlife and local communities in and around the project area.

How do the building blocks interact?

Once analyzed, the information collected with the help of satellite collars allows the experts to understand the long-term impacts of infrastructure developments on saiga movements and population recovery. As a next step, the use of the saiga as flagship species facilitates the message of conservation and protection shared with the communities and helps inform the national authorities and decision-makers on the need to design and establish new protected areas and ecological corridors.

Impacts

The saiga (Saiga tatarica) is a migratory ungulate that exists in two subspecies and five major populations: three in Kazakhstan, one in Russia and one in Mongolia. More than 2 million existed in the 1950s, but catastrophic declines since the 1990s resulted in only 30,000 remaining, scattered across an immense area. Originally hunted for meat, in the 1990s the population declined dramatically due to ruthless hunting for horns to satisfy demand from China, where saiga horn is used as traditional medicine. Only hundreds persist in Altyn Dala, where historically the largest population of 1 million thrived, as it was both a calving ground and provided rich summer grazing.


Project partners support mobile warden units whose patrols investigate and deter poaching, and monitor the migrating herds. This is combined with law enforcement, public awareness and socio-economic development to make poaching a far less attractive option for rural people. The use of satellite transmitters has highlighted saiga's major migration routes, as well as vitally important calving and wintering areas. By combining this information with the results of biodiversity and socio-economic surveys and overlapping the data with the current protected areas network, the experts could identify new areas for protection. 

Story

M.Khanyari

Altyn Dala is one of the most ambitious and breathtaking species and habitat conservation projects. The steppes are of global importance, and one of the least protected habitats in the world. They support a huge diversity of wildlife including the saiga antelope. Most activities focussed on the Irgyz-Turgai-Zhylanshyk pilot area which covers 5 million ha and encompasses the former range of the Betpak-Dala saiga antelope population, the largest in Kazakhstan. Over one million of these animals formerly grazed the grasslands maintaining a rich mosaic of vegetation. Heavy poaching in the 1990s brought them to the edge of extinction with perhaps less than 30,000 surviving, followed by a massive die-off in 2015. But the trend is since positive. 

 

However, conserving saiga antelope is not simple. Each year they migrate across several million hectares - declaring all as protected areas was clearly impractical. Therefore, the Initiative applied a landscape-scale approach to conservation. To understand the migrations, ACBK has successfully fitted satellite transmitters to over 40 saiga antelopes and as a result, has mapped how they use the steppe grassland. This has highlighted their major migration routes, as well as vitally important calving and wintering areas. By combining this information with the results of biodiversity and socio-economic surveys and overlapping the data with the current protected areas network, ACBK has been able to identify new areas for protected area designation.

 

Based on these recommendations, a new protected area was established in 2012 – the Altyn Dala State Reservat covering 489,776 ha – and the Government announced its intention to extend the Irgyz-Turgai State Reservat by 410,000 ha. Of even more significance, though, is that ACBK has been able to identify land suitable for an ecological corridor to link these two Reservats to provide safe migration routes for saiga antelopes and other wildlife. The 'Yrgyz-Torgai-Zhylanshyk’ wildlife corridor was officially declared by the Government in July 2014, as the first-ever ecological corridor in Kazakhstan. The area now under protection is 3.67 million ha and consists of a combination of state-protected areas, commercially managed hunting areas and privately managed land, each with their own management objectives and activities.

Contributed by

aleksandra.nikodinovic_41811's picture

Aleksandra Nikodinovic IUCN Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Other contributors

Center for Large Landscape Conservation
Stephanie Ward
Frankfurt Zoological Society