Brief historical overview

First zapovedniks in Turkmenia Repetek and Badkhyz were designated in the first half of the century. . However, the process became systematic in the end of the 1970s beginning of the 1980s, when 5 zapovedniks were designated during a short period of time. As a result, almost all large landscape zones in the republic were covered with PA network. It was an initiative of scientists and experts of the Academies of Science of the USSR and the Turkmen Soviet Republic to designate these PAs. The PAs were designated following directives from the government without taking into account the opinion of local communities. This gave birth to conflicts leading to numerous revisions of reserves borders and mass violations of protection regimes in the 1990s.

In the 1980s, graduates from more than 50 Soviet Union high schools from Irkutsk and Novosibirsk to Moscow and Baltic Republics worked in Turkmenian zapovedniks. At that time, no one else had such advanced scientific and professional staff. Unfortunately, not all the 8 zapovedniks managed to develop conservation traditions. This affected negatively the situation with research and biodiversity conservation in the zapovedniks afterwards, during the transition period. In the beginning of the 1990s most scientists and experts retired from the conservation system: some people emigrated, some managed to find better paid jobs. Environmental conservation in Turkmenistan entered the crisis period. This period is described in detail by S.A. Bukreev in his monographic work Ornithological Geography and Reserves in Turkmenistan. Relatively low salaries and lack of facilities and resources affected negatively environmental conservation in the zapovedniks. In 1991 1996, populations of many big mammals (leopard, urial, Bezoar goat, Goitered gazelle, saiga antelope) had reduced by 24 times, and there were times when we thought that successes of the 1980 will be destroyed completely. Protection systems had collapsed in almost all zapovedniks. Areas located outsider the border of frontier constructions (cordons, etc.) lost their conservation significance. It seemed that the principles own reserve for each region and own region for each reserve should be forgotten forever.

Time passed by. Within a decade, four Ministers of Environmental Protection of Turkmenistan replaced each other on the post one by one, many reserve directors changed. But what is important, the national nature conservation policy also changed from consumer declaration in the style of Nikita Khrushchev, the former first secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party, such as its not worthy to protect nature from the soviet people, to rational attitude towards biodiversity as a national heritage. Many serious positive changes took place.

I can not say about all zapovedniks in Turkmenistan, I would rather dwell on the zapovedniks in which I worked for the past 4 years. Certainly, it is largely the merit of non-governmental donor organisations, the WWF in the first place; however, not a single donor organisation could reach such success without due support and attention from the Turkmen Ministry of Environmental Protection. Lately, each cent invested into zapovedniks reaches its objective despite all difficulties.

Overview of the current situation

What we have today, is a balanced protection system in Badkhyz and Kopetdag zapovedniks. From the first days of its designation, Badkhyz Zapovednik could not boast of the protection it has today: 4 inspectors crews on autos and motorcycles constantly patrol the area. Years ago inspectors lived at the cordons and were normally occupied with own business cattle farming. Nowadays inspectors do not settle at the cordons, they only stay there on a shift basis.

Accordance to the inventory undertaken on December 915, 2003, over 3,700 djeirans were simultaneously registered in Budkhyz. However, the real number of djeirans should be bigger. According to general assessment, the population is over 4,500 animals or even more, because on the eve of the inventory day during which only 500 heads were registered, I managed to register 1,500 antelopes within 10 minutes, and the snow steps showed that next night about 300 animals had entered the area. The kulan population has grown by 300 animals and now it consists of approximately 900 heads.

In Kopetdag Zapovednik, where in 1996 only small groups of urials and Bezoar goats were registered, we managed to register more than 100 Bezoar goats and about 230 urials daily along 1520 km routes in December 2002 and December 2003. During two days in December 2003, we saw night footsteps of 5 different leopards.

Only in one zapovedniks site, Mirzadag, the situation with nature conservation is noticeably worse, but even in Mirzadag, there are positive changes. Although I did not inspect the whole zapovednik area, I would like to hope that everywhere else the situation would be as good as it was in the three sites I managed to visit. Currently, the situation with protection of the frontier borders also changed for the better: large mammals prosper in most neighbouring areas!

Situation with nature conservation in Syunt-Khasardag Zapovednik is less favourable. However, even there positive changes are obvious. As in Kopetdag and Budkhyz zapovedniks, this PA began reformation of its protection service. Today, in addition to the zapovednik area patrolling, two detachments of inspectors secure biodiversity conservation outside zapovednik borders in regions, where, with the support of WWF, the zapovednik runs projects aimed at reintroduction of Goitered gazelle and improvement of leopard natural habitats in the Western Kopetdag.

I can not assess the quality of environmental conservation in Khazar (Krasnovodsky) zapovednik generally, but the state of artificially bred djeiran population on the Isle of Ogurchinsky is much better than I could expect. In June 2003, according to preliminary assessments, the population exceeded 700 animals.

The state of Marhur population is a good indicator of Kugitang zapovednik protection service performance. In 2000, we registered 300 Marhurs, and the population was assessed as 550600 heads. Three new cordons were built during the past five years in the zapovednik.

I can say for sure that former research staff of Amu-Daria zapovednik could envy their present-day colleagues: in each part of the PA comfortable housed have been built.

All these achievements show a good trend in biodiversity conservation and PA management in Turkmenistan.

As said above, during the transition period, many skilled workers left reserves due to various objective and subjective reasons. This was a serious loss for Turkmenian reserves. Now the situation is gradually improving. Since 2003, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and with the support of the WWF, launched a national training programme for zapovednik staff. We hope that this initiative will bring positive results.

A significant factor that helps to understand the attitude of the government towards environmental conservation is that today, zapovedniks staff (especially departments directly engaged into protection) did not reduce in comparison with the Soviet times. Monthly salaries are relatively high from 1,200,000 to 2,500,000 manates, ($ 60110). In almost all zapovedniks, administrative buildings are either repaired or restored, reserves are equipped with computers. There are plans to integrate the zapovedniks into a single information network, develop an integral database to monitor ecosystems dynamics, and continue Chronicles of Nature. I would like to emphasise that despite some drawbacks, the zapovedniks work hard to overcome them. The Turkmenian Minister of Environmental Protection pointed out during the last meeting that very soon the zapovedniks will change positively in all aspects. The Minister assured that all logistics and protection problems are temporary.

Simultaneously with the reinforcement of protection in the state zapovedniks in Turkmenistan, ecotourism development is becoming one of the burning discussion topics. In all countries ecotourism is traditionally associated with certain PA categories. Currently, the position formulated in The Strategy for Biodiversity Conservation prevails. Its main idea is that ecotourism should be developed in NPs (although there are no national parks in Turkmenistan yet) while zapovedniks should remain intact and preserve their highest conservation status.

Viktor Lukarevsky,
The A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology
and Evolution Problems, RAS



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