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Kazakhstan “steppes” up protection of endangered antelope

Press release from World Wildlife Fund | May 01, 2007

A new nature reserve in Kazakhstan will protect unique wetlands and rare antelopes living on the country's famous steppes.

More than 93 per cent of the Irgiz-Turgay nature reserve, with an area of 763,549 hectares, will become a protected pasture for wild ungulates, including saiga antelope.

"This large reserve is an important step in achieving our goal of creating a system of protected areas of more than 6 million hectares, first of all for rare ungulates and birds," says Tatyana Bragina, Coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative.

The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI) is aimed at protecting the steppes and semideserts of Kazakhstan, along with the species inhabiting them. The initiative is made up of a coalition of international NGOs, which includes the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF, and Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan, in cooperation with Kazakhstan's Committee for Forestry and Hunting (the Ministry of Agriculture) and the Ministry of Environment.

The creation of the Irgiz-Turgay nature reserve is also an important step in implementing WWF's ECONET project, which aims to see a system of reserves connected by ecological corridors and buffer zones. Such a system would allow local communities to benefit from the area's natural resources, while at the same time protecting the biodiversity.

"The nature of the Irgiz-Turgay area has long been affected by overgrazing, agriculture and commercial fishing," says Olga Pereladova, head of WWF's Central Asia Programme.

"Now these activities will be prohibited on part of the territory of the Irgiz-Turgay nature reserve and limited in the rest of the area."

The reserve also provides habitat to various species of waterbirds that use it for breeding and feeding. The area is also home to the globally threatened dalmatian pelican and white-headed duck during the molting season.

The lakes of the lower Irgiz and Turgay river basins were included in the list of wetlands of international importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1975.


editors note - The saiga antelope has survived practically unchanged since pre-glacial ages. However, poaching and habitat loss brought the species to the verge of extinction. The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) started a saiga project, implemented by WWF, because of a drastic decrease in the population of the species by the late 1990s. Since then, the number of saigas has increased. The Betpakdala population of the saiga, on which FZS and WWF concentrated their conservation efforts, grew from 2,000-3,000 in 2003 to 16,800 in 2006.

- The WWF ECONET project is a scheme that proposes to create an "ecological net" on about 40 per cent of the region's area. It will consist partly of strict protected areas and partly of ecological corridors and buffer zones, which allow some types of land use. In 2006, the WWF ECONET project was included in the Central Asia Framework Convention as a solution to biodiversity loss in the region.

For further information:
Maria Vinokurova, Communications Officer
WWF Central Asia Project
E-mail: mvinokurova@wwf.ru

Article has been adapted from a news release issued by World Wildlife Fund.

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