© WWF Russia / Svetlana Blagovesenskay
© WWF Russia / Olga Pereladova

Tigrovaja balka zapovednik in Tajikistan is the most important reserve in Central Asia in terms of total area and representation of ecosystems and rare species of the arid river valley’s floodplain (riparian) forests. It is wise to mention, that the last Turanian tiger in the world was seen here, in Tigrovaya Balka Zapovednik in 1958. While throughout the region tugai ecosystems are typically represented by narrow strips and small patches, the virtual jungles of tugai in Tigrovaya Balka are the largest, most intact in the region. Within the reserve, the tugai is concentrated between the Vakhsh and Pyandzh Rivers.

As a native floodplain forest, the area of Tigrovaya Balka needs regular floods for normal existence and development. Natural floods are prevented by an artificial regime of water use (system of dams and dikes), so water needs to be given to the forest artificially once a year. In order to prevent flooding of fields and settlements, surrounding the forest area, a system of dykes need to be reconstructed around the forest, and it is necessary to dig a canal from the river around the forest. Previously some system of canals existed, but now they don’t function at all. There were three extremely dry years in Central Asia one after another, and the forest stated to degrade because of lack of water and high level of salination. Now we have the second wet year running, and there was a hope for forest rehabilitation. But this didn’t happen as riparian forests don’t need just humidity, but flooding - to take cumulated salts out of the soils.

In the frame of Bukhara deer restoration project the zapovednik received some minor technical support, human dimension activities were developed, including “ecological camps” for children. In 2004 some new steps on habitat rehabilitation were undertaken: saxaul forests were replanted in the deserts, surrounding the main massif of riparian forest.

In autumn 2005 thanks to the interest and activity of Cervid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Minnesota Zoo in particular, the first directional funding arrived: Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund provided the first 5000 $ as a rapid response for initial work on riparian forests of Tigrovaja balka rehabilitation.