Riparian forests are the natural habitat of the highly endangered Bactrian deer - from its origin a sedentary and small-numbered subspecies, it had diminished greatly in both population and range by the 1970s and 1980s. By the end of the 1980s the species numbered no more than 900 animals in the wild, including about 600 animals in natural populations, and 300 in artificially created populations. By 1998-99 there rested only 350 deer, with the most considerable losses in Tajikistan – as a result of civil conflict, which this country had to overcome. This lead to a situation, when middle reaches of Amudaria – Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan parts – became practically the only refuge of natural populations of the species - facing common threats: destruction of habitat, unexpected floods, and poaching.
The overall goal of the project is to conserve still existing and to restore bukhara deer populations within its historical area in order:
The project focus on the following objectives:
When the project just began, it was a continuation of different kinds of activities, which had been carried out before, being supported by numerous donors in 1995-1999. With the support of CNRS France, some additional help of French Embassy in Uzbekistan, followed by initial support from WWF LHI and WWF Pakistan Kyzylkumskii and Badai-Tugai zapovedniks (Uzbekistan) received some initial technical support, two pens (2 and 1,5 ha) were built in Zeravshan (Uzbekistan, near Samarkand), 4 deer were brought from Badai in 1996 (3 females and 1 subadult male), two newborn males were caught in Kyzykumskii, hand rared, and in autumn 1997 brought to Zeravshan as well – so, in 1999 we had the first newborns in the pens.
In the frame of the INTAS project in Kazakhstan (common scientific work of French CNRS team, two teams of Kazakhstan and one team from Russia)- the first experiment on embryo-transplantation was carried out in 1999-2000. Finely this project failed for different reasons, but some bukhara deer purchased in the frame of this project, were passed as an initial herd for reintroduction project in Kazakhstan – in the riparian forests of Syrdaria..
With funding from the Netherlands, WWF started a bactrian deer restoration project in 1998. One of the first steps was aiding existing nature reserves in their efforts to protect the bukhara deer, or «hangul», as it is sometimes called.
6 zapovedniks in 4 countries received initial technical support: rangers’ stations were built or old one were repaired, new vehicles and motorbikes were purchased and old ones repaired and supported with spares; motors for boats and boats, field equipment, field uniform for rangers, gaz and food for patrolling, forage for animals in pens. For sure, zapovedniks did not receive everything that they need – the budget we have doesn’t allow to cover all the needs. But every year we try to check what are the most urgent needs and try to help to solve them. Besides that, Amudaria-basin inspection was created by a special order of the «Gosbiokontrole» department of the State Committee for nature conservation of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The inspection is supported with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, field equipment, sources for communication, GPS, gas and financial support for ranging.
For example, Amudaria Zapovednik in Turkmenistan was outfitted with field equipment. Rangers station were initially repaired first and then completely rebuilt, equipped with water pumps, towers for observation, radio communication system, etc. When the stations were repaired – common small houses from clay in a traditional Turkmen style – rangers did something extraordinary. They bought cheep cotton textile, covered the walls and the roofs inside the rooms with it – and painted beautiful pictures of nature on it. And in each of the stations they equipped one small room as an office – with different information and education materials. Rangers have to spend a week or ten days in this stations – they work in a 7 or ten days shifts – and they fell comfortable living in such conditions –and the respect of the local people really grew up.
Ecological education and human dimention activities
The main idea of this work is not really protection of species or its habitats from people – but explaining to the people, that it is their treasure and national destiny. It was easy to explain, that those deer, that managed to survive in the region – will not solve the problem with meet for local people. And – even more important – their habitats – riparian forests – are not just places, which can be cleaned for the fields, easy for watering – but these forests prevent the surrounding lands from floods much better, then systems of dams, they create the climate, their importance is immeasurable…
Special papers, leaflets and booklets are prepared and published in the frame of the project – for different target groups, for adults and children of different age. TV and radio broadcasts are prepared, as well as special films and clips. Practical actions and different kinds of children’s competitions are organized. For example children in Uzbekistan are collecting acorns as a component of deer winter forage. Ecological camps (rallies) for schoolchildren are organized (see below - ecological education)
Information materials are presented in the rangers stations of zapovedniks, and besides that nature museum are established in the offices of some of the zapovedniks – Amudaria, Zerafshan, etc. And hundreds of people come to these museums, look at the pictures, posters, collections – listen to explanations of the specialists. When we had the first concurs of children’s paintings, devoted to bactrian deer in 2000 – we saw roe deer, elk. Moose on the pictures – children painted any kind of deer, which they found in a book – they had no idea what does the bukhara deer look like. And now it is difficult to find somebody in the region, who is not familiar with the species – and who is not proud, that this beautiful «deer - flower» is inhabiting their forests. And that is may be one of the greatest achievements of the project – and of the staff of the zapovedniks first of all. (see below – ecological education)
Deer themselves had proved that our work is successful. There were three old males in Kabakly cluster of Amudaria zapovednik. They lived there for some years – and finally one of the males was so old and sick that he came to the ranger’s station – and died (from age!) near it. He had already practically no teeth to eat grass – so he had no chances for further survival. He was an easiest matter for poaching – but there was really no poaching in the region. And now this deer is stuffed – standing in the Museum of the zapovednik – and everybody can see, how Bactrian deer looks like – although it is so difficult to see them in the natural jungle of the riparian forests.
As a result of the bukhara deer historical area survey areas were identified, where it is possible and necessary to restore deer populations. As the first priority sites the following three were choosen:
A system of 3 pens is built in Zarafshan reserve. This allows us to separate the group of deer and to prepare some parts of the group for releasing. Thanks to successful reproduction, we now have 27 deer out of initial 6 animals, and the first release is prepared.
A system of pens and infrastructure for the staff was built in Turkistan - for feeding, taking care and conducting regular observations. Deer were caught in Karatchingil State game area, which belongs to the Kazakhstan President’s administrative department. (Bukhara deer had been brought here from Tajikistan in 1972, and since then the population developed up to more then 200 animals). According to special governmental decision animals from Karatchingil were donated for reintroduction. By the initiative of regional administration a special sanctuary was created in Turkestan – 30 000 ha – as a future territory of deer release, specially for reintroduction purposes. Thanks to reproduction of the first group of animals, and with addition of new groups caught in Karatchingil (the last animals – in 2005) we have now already 15 deer there. And the first release is planned for 2006.
Activities on bukhara deer reintroduction in Altyn-Emel were initiated in winter 2004-2005. Partly the funding from the project was used, partly the own income of the national park, coming from developed ecological tourism. So a system of pens and necessary infrastructure were prepared. It is planned to bring deer here in winter 2005-2006.
Much more work as well as additional funding is still needed to develop a transboundary network of protected areas in riparian forests along the Amudaria River, so that deer, migrating from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan and back (depending on the level of water, development of vegetation and other conditions0 are safe on both sides.
Nonetheless, efforts to save the hangul have already had significant results. The populations in the region is now estimated at about 850 animals and many people living in Central Asia now recognize it as a national treasure of global importance.