Steppe under protection
Federal wildlife refuges in Kalmykia receive their manager
Boris S. Ubushaev (Black Lands Nature Reserve, Kalmykia), Emma B. Gabunshchina (UNDP/GEF Steppe Project, Elista)
Mekletinky, Kharbinsky and Sarpinsky Federal Game Reserves in Kalmykia Republic were established in the late-1880s with the priority aim being to protect the saiga antelope. For a long time, the reserves were under the jurisdiction of the Department of Hunting Management within the Ministry of Agriculture. Later, their status was changed to biological wildlife refuges. For more than 20 years, however, the protected areas had neither administration nor funding and were virtually no man lands and unprotected. In 2009, the responsibility for wildlife refuges was delegated to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The situation, however, only changed after the protection and management of them was given over to the Black Lands Nature Reserve administration.
In addition to the protection of the population of saiga antelope, the purposes of the wildlife refuges were to conserve typical semi-desert and desert-steppe ecosystems and to serve as stopover sites for migratory water. The establishment of protected areas was expected to prevent further degradation of plant cover and soils relating to overgrazing and to help them to recover. However, both privately-owned and state-owned sheep farms, as well as human settlements, have existed within the refuges’ boundaries since before their establishment and farming was not limited in any serious way. During the “no man land” period, however, the protected areas were heavily exploited through grazing and the making of hay.
The article provides brief descriptions of ecological and geographical features within all three protected areas.
At present, the following activities are underway: enforcing protection, formulating restrictions for farming and other economic activities, inventorying and studying biodiversity, environmental monitoring, communicating with local authorities. The most important challenges to ensuring the effective management of the three wildlife refuges, as viewed by the nature reserve administration, are listed.
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Work bulletin on conservation of steppe ecosystems and sustainable use of steppes
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