Forests and Wildlife in Central Asia

Tien-Shan Birch in Western Tien-Shan Mountains in Uzbekistan.

The World Wildlife Day (March 3) this year highlights the role of forests for the livelihood of humanity. UN celebrates this day under the theme: “Forest and Livelihoods: Sustaining people and planet”. Forests in Central Asia occupy only a small part of the territory but play an enormous role in providing multiple ecosystem services and not only for local communities. First of all, forests regulate climate and water cycles, ensure food, fibers, and habitats for people and abundant wildlife. Forest have cultural and spiritual values. They serve as recreational places. One of the most important roles of the forests, especially in the mountains, is relevant to the allocation of space for evolutionary processes. The richest and diverse fauna and flora are presented in the forests.

Forests play a crucial role in Central Asia. Their loss impacts wildlife and human livelihoods.

In 2003, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered area in 769.5 thousand ha, including coniferous forests 280.1 thousand ha, hardwood forest 34,400 ha (ash, maple, elm), softwood (birch, poplar, willow) 14,100 ha, others 98,300 ha (walnut, apple-tree, almond, apricot); shrubs 342,6 ha (Forests of Kyrgyzstan, 2003). In 2010, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered 1,123,200 ha or 5.6% of the total area of the country (FAO, 2010). According to the assessment prepared by UNECE-FAO in 2018 (Tsevs, 2018), 160,000 ha of forest were lost in Kyrgyzstan in the last 50 years. The total forest area in 2015 was 637,000 ha or 3.2% from the country’s area, including 590,000 ha primary forest and 47,000 ha planted forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).

In the past (about 100 years ago), forests in Tajikistan covered about 25% of the country. However, many areas were cut off for the development of agriculture. In 2010, forests occupied around 410,000 ha (Kirchhoff & Fabian, 2010), but the statistic of forest dynamics were complicated due to lack of adequate data management. The total forest area (assessment of 2015) is evaluated in 412,000 ha or 2.9% of the country’s territory, including 297,000 primary forests, 103,000 ha planted forest, and 12,000 ha naturally regenerated forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).  

The percentage of forest land in Uzbekistan is 7.3% (UNECE, 2015). At present, the total area of the State Forest Fund is 11,196.2 thousand ha or 25.2% of the total land area, including 7.2% of forest land (trees and shrubs). The State Forest Fund is comprised of desert land (81%), mountain lands (16%), valleys (2%), and tugai or river gallery forests (1%).  According to law, forests in Uzbekistan are state property and national wealth. All forests are an integral part of the State Forest Fund, except for protective planting, forest belts, urban forests, trees on farmland, and gardens. According to NBSAP (2015), desert and tugai are most degraded and need urgent recovery measures. The agroforestry (walnut, pistachio, almond, and fruit) planting partly compensates for the degradation of mountain forests. However, it is not enough for the recovery of lost forested areas.

Forests provide habitats for many animal species. The diversity of species and subspecies is the most rich in mountains and river valleys. Many species are “least concern” and can be found during short visits to forested areas. However, many species (especially large birds and mammals, beautiful butterflies) are rare and threatened and included in the national red lists and red books. Examples of local communities involved in conservation gave positive results in many countries. The most striking such examples are in Tajikistan, where many charismatic large mammal species recovered last decades due to community participation in protection and benefit sharing.

Flora is very rich in the region, and especially in the mountain areas and in the mountain forests. Only around Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, the plant diversity is evaluated in 1,500 – 1,800 species. The plant diversity in the region is more than 5,000 species. And, in particular, due to this fact, the region is evaluated as one of the biodiversity hot-spots: The Mountains of Central Asia.

The conservation and recovery of species and ecosystems are results of the cooperation between state agencies and civil society: environmental NGOs, grassroot groups and academia.

Used Literature:

FAO, 2010. Capacity building for National Forest and Tree Resource Assessment and Monitoring in Kyrgzystan, Report, 19 p.

Kirchhoff & Fabian. (2010). Forestry sector analysis of the Republic of Tajikistan. GTZ/DED/CIM Regional Program “Sustainable use of natural resources in Central Asia”. Dushanbe, 2010. 56 p.

UNECE & FAO. (2019). Forest landscape restoration in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Paper 72, 66 p.

Used images are from author’s archive.

Algonquin Park during Fall Season

Algonquin Provincial Park during fall. Algonquin Provincial Park, located in Ontario, is one of the oldest parks not only in Canada, but in North America. It was established in 1893. At present, it covers the area of 7,653 sq. km. Located on the border between northern boreal forests and southern mixed and deciduous forests, the Park provides habitats for very rich diversity of animals and plants. Its convenient location makes it an attractive magnet for residents of Ontario, highways provides quick access from both Toronto and Ottawa sides. A variety of landscapes, an endless number of deep clean lakes, fast and slow-flowing water streams, a well-developed tourist infrastructure – all this contributes to the development of recreational activities in the Park. However, recreation does not interfere with the implementation of conservation tasks for preserving the rich flora and fauna due to the rational planning and location of access zones only in certain areas of the park.

Algonquin Provincial Park represents a place that attracts thousands and thousands of people at any time of the year. Ontarians and visitors from other provinces and countries come to the park to admire the magnificent landscapes, as well as in the hope of seeing the wildlife species typical of the southern taiga zone. Their expectations are not groundless. When visitors come to the park in a suitable season, they can almost always observe moose and white-tailed deer, beavers and muskrats, martens and foxes, otters and American minks not far the forest paths. Sometimes tourists can even see the American black bear or the Algonquin wolf, although the latter are very careful and rarely spend time near tourist trails with frightening smells and noise from people. In areas where bears live, warning signs are usually installed, and visitors are instructed about behavior how to react when they unexpectedly meet these inhabitants of the park closely.

Algonquin Provincial Park during fall is a great birdwatching spot. A significant number of breeding birds occurs here, many of which are migratory. They fill the park with their songs, chirping, cackling and squeaking from early spring to late autumn. But it is also home to a significant number of resident species. Near the trails in the coniferous forest, visitors can observe a completely fearless bird – the Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis). Spruce Grouse does not pay attention to the presence of people and can allow observers coming very close – to a few steps, continuing to examine the forest floor in search of buds, fresh needles or hiding insects. Another bird, which often even accompanies visitors in the hope of profiting from appetizing offerings, is the Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). In the fall, Canada jays appear in crowded places and, on occasion, do not hesitate to descend on an outstretched hand with nuts or dried cranberries. The park’s specialists have been conducting long-term monitoring of the Canada Jay’ populations inhabiting its area, therefore, almost all birds are marked with colored rings arranged in a certain sequence, which makes it possible to recognize each bird. The rare Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) nests in the park. This woodpecker inhabits the burned-out forests or forests affected by outbreaks of insect-pests. Sometimes the large Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) nests in the park. Among the migratory species there are many birds belonging to the different taxonomic groups – loons, grebes, waterfowl – ducks and Canada geese, herons and bitterns, gulls and waders and a wide variety of small passerines.

The number of tourists visiting the park is significant at any time of the year, but in autumn it is especially great. At this time, there are often days when the park administration is forced to close access zones for visitors, since the pressure on the park’s ecosystems is too big. In such days, numerous tourist cars form traffic jams on the entrances to the park and along highway 60 inside the park itself. But when you planning the visit to the park not at the very peak of the autumn season, then you can fully enjoy both the rich extent of calm autumn colors and scenes from the life of the wild park’s inhabitants. Each trail in the park has parking lots where you can leave your car, take a map with the route and follow one or more of your favorite paths.

Autumn is not only a time of colors and extraordinary sunrises; it is also a time for mushrooms to ripen. Mushrooms appear at the end of August – September along with morning fogs, rains and autumn coolness. The last year has been marked by the richest harvest of representatives of this nature realm. Bizarre shapes, colossal sizes, diverse types and miracles of adaptation undoubtedly draw attention to this living organisms. Mushrooms in the park are a great help in preparing for winter for representatives of the fauna. Fast American red squirrels have appreciated the fall harvest by storing mushrooms on tree branches and hiding them under tree trunks. It is certain that other animals do not pass by such wealth, but it is almost impossible to spy on such scenes.

All of these make Algonquin Provincial Park during fall season is the most attractive place to visit.

Migration of Monarch Butterfly along Ontario Lake

Roosting monarch butterfly

The migration of monarch butterfly along shore of Ontario Lake. In the fall of last year, we witnessed an amazing phenomenon that occurs every year, but possibly that not every year it is so intense. This phenomenon is the migration of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) along the shores of Lake Ontario. In early September, we observed how individual butterflies and their small clusters easily rise above farm fields and flowering meadows and rush into the blue sky, driven by strange forces. Thus, the migration of monarch-butterflies starts.

In mid-September, I arrived to Toronto on business and keeping in memory of these soaring butterflies over fields and meadows, I suggested to visit the shore of Lake Ontario, where my friends observed congregations of butterflies many years ago. What if we are lucky this year with similar migration? Before that, we already knew that flying monarch butterflies gather during the autumn migration period in Point Pelee National Park in southern Ontario, where their migration clusters are monitored annually. But in Colonel Smith’s park in Toronto, where we planned to go, the monitoring of migratory butterflies is not carried out, since the clusters here are not so large and are not always observed …

On the first day – September 14th – we arrived at the park after dawn at about 8 a.m. There were quite a few monarchs on the bushes along the path leading to the lake, but all of them were kept alone or in small groups on the bushes of the goldenrod (Solidago ssp.), Canadian horseweed and asters, and on the branches of various bushes.

Butterflies just woke up, they lazily spread their wings and reluctantly flew from bush to bush when we approached them. Along the path closer to the lake there were many thickets of goldenrod and asters. Some movement was already noticeable there. The awakened monarchs scattered and settled comfortably on the flowers for morning feeding. Noticeable assemblages were nowhere to be seen. However, butterflies were everywhere, and there were surprisingly abundant. They gathered in small groups, mainly on plants of the goldenrod, where solitary butterflies and small clusters constantly moved and interacted with each other, finding out the dominance relationship. Of course, there were many butterflies scattered, compared to what happens here in the summer, but not as many as expected… We did not find monarch roosting places.

On the second day, we arrived at the park earlier – even before dawn and immediately went towards the bank, where on the eve we saw many butterflies dancing over the thickets and flowers. At first we did not notice anything – the sun had not yet risen and all the bushes and tree branches seemed equally gray. We walked slowly along the tree line, growing closely to the banks of Lake Ontario, carefully looking at the flower thickets, as well as bushes and trees. And finally – a miracle! Suddenly, the first rays fell on the still hanging branches of green maples and we saw that they were strewn with garlands of butterflies.

Butterflies merged with the surface of the foliage, they all sat with their wings closed and looked like a monotonous brownish-gray fringe, which at first we did not even distinguish from the surrounding foliage, because the butterflies were numb. First, we saw garlands of butterflies on one tree, then on another, then on a third, then more and more… Butterflies sat very tightly and it was impossible to estimate their number. But it was obvious that tens of thousands of monarchs gathered on the narrow strip of trees along Lake Ontario, and maybe more, because we stopped at a spot with a dozen trees to watch the butterflies.

It was gradually getting light. The rays of the sun peeked, then hid behind the clouds that had rushed at dawn. When a bright beam pierced through the clouds and illuminated the trees, individual butterflies spread their wings and bushes came to life from bright “lightings”. But the beam was hiding and again the monarchs closed their wings and fell into a lethargy. Nevertheless, the morning gradually came into its own, and with its light the living bulk on tree branches came to life and began to swarm.

The monarchs opened their wings, catching the energy sent by the sun’s rays, and preparing for a new day. Those that were higher in the branches were better stricken by sun and they woke up earlier. When the butterflies woke up and warmed up, they slowly took off from the bushes, circled around in a slow dance and gradually descended down into the thickets of flowering fodder plants – the goldenrod, Canadian horseweed and asters. A little more than half an hour passed and the morning magic disappeared. All the butterflies left their roosting places and literally disappeared into the surrounding thickets of grass and shrubs or, probably, flew away to south. At about 9 a.m., butterflies could only be seen fluttering over colored plant patches and feeding on flowers. There was nothing left on the trees. However, there was a memorable happiness and the urge to touch one of the secrets of the wilderness…

Well, of course, our wonderful pictures and videos of this amazing natural phenomenon of the migration of monarch butterfly remained… After a few days, the accumulations of butterflies in the park disappeared. It is likely that they flew to their wintering sites in Mexico in the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve, located in the pine and oak forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.

Whatever it is – the mass migration of monarch butterfly along shore of Ontario Lake is one of the wonders of the world, which keeps the secret of Universe that remains to be solved one day…

Butterfly on flower
Monarch butterfly feeding on the aster

Bird Migration on Mud Lake in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada)

A very common Song Sparrow near Mud Lake during fall migration

In Ottawa there is an amazing place called Mud Lake. Mud Lake is located not far from the central part of the city, close to the Ottawa River. This area is truly unusually rich in a variety of all kinds of animals: from amphibians, snakes and turtles to a remarkable diversity of mammals. The lake is also part of a protected area called the Britannia Conservation Area. It is managed by National Capital Commission (NCC).

But this territory has become special fame as a transit corridor for a great number of birds that make regular migrations from their breeding habitats in the northern forests to wintering sites in the southern hemisphere. Mud Lake is part of the Lac-Deschenes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA). This important bird area is really exceptional because it serves as a stopover place for a very intensive migration of birds nesting in the Canadian taiga, both in spring and autumn.

Throughout the year, naturalists love to visit the Mud Lake area as a place to observe many types of wildlife in a city setting. But especially many people – naturalists, birdwatchers and photographers – gather here during the periods of bird migration: in spring – from April to early June, and in autumn from mid-August to October. Thousands of naturalists come to Mud Lake to watch one of the most amazing natural phenomena – the seasonal bird migration.  

Now one of the migration peaks of small passerine birds is observed – when long-distant neotropical migrants which fly from the northern forests into the jungles of Central and South America to spend time there, when the northern forests will be covered with winter frosts and sheltered with dense snowdrifts. Migratory birds have not yet molted and wear unsightly faded plumage, but some of them are already sporting mating attire.

The small ridge separating the lake from the Ottawa River is exactly where many waves of migrating birds stop. For an hour of observation, on some days, you can see from 30-40 to 70-90 bird species. The birds hide and feed in the bushes growing on the slopes of the ridge that rolling to the banks of the Ottawa River, in the crowns of tall trees, as well as among the needles of pines, firs and spruce trees growing around the lake. There are especially many birds after rains and winds, when harsh weather push brave migrants wait out the bad conditions in the bushes. Birds are not only wait they inspect all vegetation around searching for diverse insects and other invertebrates hidden in the branches and under the bark of trees.

Every naturalist will be “rewarded” with unique moments of observation of migratory species, gathered in one place… Hurry up to say goodbye to the brave passengers flying away for the winter and wish them all to come back to their breeding grounds in spring …

The Birds of Pamirs, Hissar, Alai and Tien Shan

Just published: Sergey Toropov with the second part of the book.

The book about birds of the mountains of Central Asia was just published by Sergei A. Toropov. The second part calls” The birds of Pamirs, Hissar, Alai and Tien Shan. Vol. 1. Non-passerines”. It includes the essays, distribution maps and excellent photos of 75 bird species breeding in the region and 61 non-breeding bird species found in the region during migrations and wintering. This part covers bird species from orders Gruiformes, Otidiformes, Charadriiformes, Cuculiformes, Columbiformes, Pterocliformes, Caprimulgiformes, Apodiformes, Strigiformes, Bucerotiformes, Coraciiformes, and Piciformes. The book was published in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It contains


This book combines characters of scientific edition and photo-book and it is the second one from a series devoted to the birds of remarkable mountain area. Bird names for each species are listed in Latin, English, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tajik and Uzbek languages. The maps with distribution and places of bird occurrence are presented for each species. The book contains 464 pages and 589 illustrations. Each bird essay includes data on species distribution and regional status, typical habitats, life-history, general abundance, measurements of mature birds, and resident subspecies. All essays are illustrated with colour photographs of birds in a natural setting and typical habitats. Some essays also provide pictures of chicks, juveniles and nests with eggs. Information about distribution of species or subspecies is presented on colour relief-shaded map. The book also contains references and alphabetical indices for Latin, Russian, and English bird names, errata and some corrections to the 1st part of Volume 1, and selected photos highlighted field expeditions of project participants. The book is a good source of information about scenic nature of mountain regions of Central Asia. It can be of interest for zoologists, birdwatchers, specialists working in the area of nature conservation, naturalists and all other people, who interested to know more about birds in mountains of Central Asia.

Director of the project; idea of the book; expeditions, photos, text, maps, design is Mr. Sergei A. Toropov (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); English translation: Dr. Elena A. Kreuzberg-Mukhina (Ottawa, Canada) and Mr. Shamil F. Gareev (Tashkent, Uzbekistan). Scientific corrector/editor of Rus./Eng. content: Dmitry A. Milko (Kyrgyz Academy of Science); Original maps: Roman R. Nurgaleev (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); Computer photo-design & making-up: Elena V. Garina (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) and Sergei A. Toropov.

You can order this book: Volume 1: part 1 and part 2 through our website. At present the delivery of the book is complicated due to COVID-19 situation, but we’ll explore the opportunity to deliver the number of copies to North America as soon as possible.

Dumoine River in Quebec, Canada: place to visit

Dumoine River in May

The Dumoine River is one of the nine main tributaries flowing into the Ottawa River, and the last remaining undammed river in southern Quebec. The Dumoine River flows south from Dumoine Lake into the Ottawa River, about 200 km upstream from Canada’s National Capital, Ottawa. It has a basin area of 5,380 km2 and is 129 km long. For most of its length, it acts as the boundary between the municipalities of Temiscamingue and Pontiac. It also happens to be home to the largest area of unfragmented boreal forest in southern Quebec. Not only is Dumoine River located close to the Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, but it serves as a very significant wildlife corridor linking La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve to Algonquin Park, further linking to Adirondacks in New York state, and then to the Appalachian Mountains.

Long ago, Wiskedjak, a prominent character of the Algonquian legends, came across Kiwegoam or the “turn-back lake” (Dumoine Lake). As he walked to the opposite side, he found a round, high, mountain that looked like a beaver lodge. Wiskedjak wanted to hunt the giant beaver that lived in this lodge, and decided to drain Kiwegoam (Dumoine Lake). While the water was draining, Wiskedjak took a nap. When he woke up, he couldn’t find the beaver, and thought that the beaver had followed the draining water and left the lake, so he followed the beaver. He went past the Coulonge River, past the Pembroke Lakes, and arrived at Calumet Chutes, but he found nothing. He turned around and began to follow his own tracks, thinking they belonged to the beaver. Finally, after several attempts Wiskedjak gave up. Nonetheless, his efforts made a significant contribution! His draining of the Dumoine Lake created the Dumoine River, while his trail established the Calumet portage, or simply the Wiskedjak tracks (Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, 2005; Schaber, 2015). This is an ancient legend, but confident beavers still inhabit the riverbanks…

Since that time and until now, the Dumoine River area is a great piece of intact nature still free of invasive species, and full of wilderness. Many natural habitats have been kept along the river providing healthy environment for settlements of boreal inhabitants. Fresh bear and moose footprints can be found in many places as well as animals themselves. Mostly wild animals are very cautious and try to avoid direct meetings with people. But they leave the evidence of their presence on the roads and in the woods. Other animals even pose for observers, because they are not scared by “bipedal aliens”, disturbing their realm.

The boreal forest is amazingly rich with many bird species, representing good northern species diversity. The birds are the most abundant and diverse group of vertebrate animals around Dumoine River, including many boreal specialists that inhabit the woods and make regular seasonal migrations. Some species are very abundant, others are more secretive and hidden in the woods and in the foliage of deciduous trees. It is hard to spot them in the crowns, but they can be recognized by calls and songs.

Morning light is something special on the river and time spent in the wilderness is very valuable for inspiration, and motivation of curious and artistic minds, as well as for enjoyment of life in all its fullness. The life is empty without such moments. Dumoine River still maintains wonderful landscapes, untouched wild nature and pieces of real wilderness that probably do not produce measurable goods and services, but fill the human sense by belonging to all living creatures and responsibility for the future of this virgin life. It is important to keep such “sacred” places for other people and future generations, because there is more to life than the fast paced urbanized society many of us live in.

Only small portion of photos taken by author was used for illustration. The Dumoine area always surprises the curious minds by unexpected observations of wildlife dynamics and picturesque sceneries.

Burnt Lands near Ottawa

Burnt Land alvar

If you are driving from Ottawa to the west in the direction of Almonte, Ontario, taking March Rd. (Regional Road #49), you will spot the sign of Burnt Land Road at right side along the highway and fence along the road, surrounding a large piece of land, mostly empty, which is unusual in the forested areas around Ottawa. This is the Burnt Land Provincial Park with area of 516 hectares, which supports unique alvar vegetation community. Alvars have been recognized as globally vanishing ecosystems.   

The Park’s name – “Burnt Lands” – is originated from old forest fires during the time of first European settlers. However, the large patches of area with scanty vegetation formed by limestone bedrock, black in the hot summer season, could also initiate the name of the area. The Burnt Lands consists of a mosaic diverse habitats, represented by wetland and swampy area, mixed and coniferous forests and grassland meadow. The area is surrounded by developed agricultural fields and forest concessions. In spite of development around, the small patch of the open landscape can support the diversity of prairie species, including many plants and animals. The land of Burnt Provincial Park is owned by Nature Conservancy Canada and managed by Ontario Parks under a lease agreement (Brdar, 2000). It is one of protected areas identified as a Nature Reserve provincial park since 2003.

The use of the area of the Park is limited, due to fragile nature of unique habitat. There are no special facilities in the Park; it is closed for visit by large groups. There is no special parking and rare visitors usually park on the road-sides. Although some limited activities are allowed. The park is attractive for birdwatching and plant-watching by small groups of naturalists. Hikes and excursions have been sometimes organized by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club. There are no official trails in the Park, although there are some incidental trails. The information about alvar is presented in several nature-guides (Brunton, 1996; Wake, 1997). It also can be found in internet with direction link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/ontario/burnt-lands-provincial-park-trail

Alvar plant community is distinguished from surrounding landscape. It is rich with many unique species of open plains, including some rare plants. The Park provides habitat for many vascular plants, including one Globally Threatened species, three provincially rare and around 20 regionally rare species. Since spring until end of summer, the Park is attractive for plant-watchers who can find many interesting species in the area. Some of them are common in Ontario, but infrequent in Ottawa area. Others are typical only for calcareous areas or prairies. The visitors should pay attention to presence of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). This plant actively colonizes all appropriate habitats. It can be found abundant on the alvar and on openings in the forest areas. The Eastern Poison Ivy can burn the skin even after visit of Burnt Lands. It is recommended to change clothes after visit of the area, especially in wet morning, and thoroughly wash hands with soap. It is not recommended to visit the area with open legs to avoid severe burns.

In the end of May, the site provides opportunity to see two blooming species of lady slippers: Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) and Rum’s head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) as well as other spring flowers. Later, in June and July plant-watchers can find blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albium), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), hairy beardtongue (Penstomen hirsutus), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius), wood lily (Lilium phyladelphicum) and many-many others.

White-tailed deer, coyotes, skunks, American red squirrels often visit alvar grasslands and marshy forest in the Burnt Land area.  However, the area is mostly settled by diversity of bird species typical for open and forest landscapes. Birdwatchers will find in the area upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicaudata) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Several “sparrow” species nest in the area including clay-colored (Spizella pallida), grasshopper (Ammodramus svannarum), savannah (Passerculus sandwichensis) and most abundant field sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erhytropthalmus) usually arrives later than other birds, when hairy caterpillars attack trees. The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of the common and abundant due to good harvest of creeping juniper and many other berries. More than 50 birds can be found in the area during spring morning with good conditions for bird observation.  

The best time to visit park is from the end of April until October. This time is good for naturalist hikes to observe diversity of plants and animals, which typical for alvar communities and surrounding landscapes.

“Time for Nature”- World Environmental Day in 2020

Red Marmot (Marmota caudata) in the mountains of Central Asia

The UN World Environmental Day is celebrated widely in more than 100 countries since 1974. This is an important day to encourage awareness and actions to protect our environment. The theme for World Environment Day 2020 is, “Time for Nature”, with a focus on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development.

We all as a part of environment and a biological species with ability to change the environment at the global scale are responsible to protect biodiversity as a base of our life and prosperity. What means biodiversity in our everyday life? For people leaving in rural or urban conditions of many “developing” and “developed” countries it is just a source of surviving, providing food, fiber and other needs of families and communities. Biodiversity is a source of inspiration and creativity, our art and literature reflect the vision of the world – the vision of environment and biodiversity.

Because our growing population and increasing consumption, our civilization takes more and more space from nature occupied for our needs. We use all possible resources destructing natural habitats and replacing them by rural and urban landscapes, managed for needs of our growing communities. We reduce space for other species, fragmenting habitats and transforming natural ecosystems. We pollute environment with many new substances changing landscapes and seascapes. We use too much resources that leads to declining of species and their extirpation in many areas. We introduce new species and diseases impacting native flora and fauna. We are changing climate that leads to biotic changes, impacting our lives and lives of all other creatures…

Only changing own behavior as individuals, communities, civil societies, countries and regions we can achieve the conservation goals and turn into the way of “sustainable development”. What we can do as individuals or community? We need to reduce own consumption. We need to aware other people. We need to help environmental organizations. We need to be more responsible and responsive and think about own role as a citizen to save the diversity of our green planet for future generations.

Central Asian Tortoise and its Conservation

This tortoise is still widely distributed in the desert areas of Central Asia. Photos by Mark Pestov

If you will visit the desert plain near foothills of Nuratau Range in Uzbekistan in spring – from mid-March – until late May, more likely that you will be able to spot several individuals of Central Asian Tortoise, grazing on juicy spring ephemeral plants and cereals. This turtle has the huge periods of “hibernation”, hiding for harsh time of summer heat and winter cold in deep holes, and appearing again only next spring for the short period of breeding time. It is possible to distinguish “good” and “bad” years on the rings of the tortoise carapace. After “good” years, abundant with rains and juicy vegetation, the rings are wide and prominent; after “bad” years the rings are slightly distinguished. It is possible to identify the age of individuals counting yearly rings. Surprisingly, this tortoise could adapt to the extremely difficult conditions of cold Central Asian deserts and evolve for millennia, occupying all appropriate plain desert landscapes. This tortoise does not need too much that to survive in the modern world: habitats that are not disturbed and mild anthropogenic pressure. Many desert habitats are still virgin and cannot be transformed into agricultural lands due to lack of precipitation and water. However, anthropogenic pressure is a more serious threat…   

Development of road network is one of the threats for tortoise populations

Central Asian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfeldii), the species widely distributed in Central Asia in the past, becomes more and more threatened in last decades due to species exploitation in the international trade, change and transformation of habitats, development of road network in the desert regions and other anthropogenic impacts. The species also called Horsfield’s Tortoise, Russian Steppe or Afghan Tortoise. This is an only tortoise species, which is an endemic of Central Asia. Species range and abundances significantly reduced last decades in the result of human development and transformation of virgin desert lands into irrigated crop production fields and due to international trade for pet markets. Central Asian Tortoise is included in IUCN Red List as a Vulnerable species (VU), however, its population status is unknown and not much is known about population trends (IUCN, 2021). The species is included in CITEC Appendix II and covered by agreement about international trade of wild plants and animals.

Central Asian Tortoise occurs in desert plains of Central Asia inhabiting sandy, gravelly sandy and loamy plains with sparse desert vegetation. It also can be found in stony-loamy foothills on elevations up to 800 m above sea level. Although there are known its findings on altitudes up to 1,600 m above sea level. But feeding conditions are better in the desert plains, therefore the population densities of tortoises in mountains are very low. Habitats with optimal conditions, providing a stable food base and reliable shelters, are represented by loess foothills and piedmont plains with ephemeral or wormwood-ephemeral vegetation, usually, below 800 m above sea level (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2017). According to assessment, conducted in Uzbekistan, the current range of Central Asian Tortoise in Uzbekistan occupies around 300,00 square kilometres. The population density varies significantly ranging from 0.1 – 0.9 individuals per hectare (rare) to 1.0 -9.9 individuals per hectare (common) and > 10.0 individuals per hectare (abundant).

Agricultural development of desert areas in Central Asia that took place in 1950-1980s led to expiration of this species within developed lands. Because tortoises ate seedlings of crops and green vegetation on agricultural fields. In some developed regions farmers collected and killed 2,000 – 3,000 tortoises a day.  At present, the Central Asia tortoise is extirpated from the developed regions. In some regions of Central Asia, for example, in Fergana Valley, the species is completely extinct. However, the greatest damage to the remained tortoise populations has been done by uncontrolled collection for trade.  

Males of tortoises are smaller than females

This species has an important value for local economies. Since 1990s until present, it is a subject of zoological trade, covering the needs of pet market, mostly in Europe. The tortoises for trade have been caught mostly in natural environment, therefore planning and control of animals collected for zoo-market are extremely important.

Collection of Central Asian Tortoise for trade started in 1960-1980s in southern Kazakhstan by Central Asian zoo-enterprise, located in Tashkent. Since independence time in 1990, this zoo-enterprise started to collect tortoises for trade in Uzbekistan, supplying for the market 4,000 -19,000 individuals annually. At the same time, the illegal trade to Russia and Ukraine on assessment of experts reached 50,000 individuals annually (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2006).  Until 1999, the CITEC quote was issues to Russia. Since 1999, it is issued directly to Uzbekistan. At the same time, since 1999 to 2016 the annual export quotas for collection of tortoises in natural environment increased from 35,000 to 80,000 individuals (UNEP-WCMC, 2016). A trend of sharp increase in trade took place from 2009. More likely, it is related not only high demand of the foreign markets in inexpensive turtles, but also by the increased number of organizations received official permits for catching. In total, according to expert evaluation from 1997 to 2015 only in Uzbekistan there were collected for trade legally 592,100 individuals. Besides, at least 430,000 individuals were exported for the same period of time illegally mostly to Russia and Ukraine (Bondarenko & Peregontsev, 2017).

Surveys carried out in Uzbekistan on the areas of long-term collection of tortoises for trade showed that uncontrolled catch caused the sex and age composition of the populations. After collection of individuals, suitable for trade (specimens with carapace’s length less than 12 cm), the populations are mostly represented by females over 15 years old (Bondarenko et al., 2001), because males are smaller than females and their share in catch is greater. The further research indicated that after 10 years of tortoise collection within surveyed areas, their density of populations significantly decreased and did not recover to the level before catching in next 9 years. The population density within the most part of the tortoise range does not exceed 3.0 individuals per hectare.

Central Asian Tortoise at the end of breeding season

All these facts indicate that sustainable catch of tortoises from natural environment should be only 10,000 – 12,000 individuals annually. But even in this case the international mechanisms do not solve the problem of tortoise conservation, because illegal collection and illegal export of tortoises through Kazakhstan to Russia and Ukraine. The conservation efforts should include strengthening of legislation and control, including other Central Asian countries, Russia and Ukraine. Monitoring of wild populations, public awareness and engagement in conservation of local communities in desert regions.         

References:

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/21651/9306759

Bondarenko D. A., Peregontsev E. A. 2006. Perspectives of Study and Protection of Steppe Tortoise in Uzbekistan // Chelonii. Vol. 4. P. 278 – 284.

Bondarenko D.A., Peregontsev E.A. 2017. Distribution of the Central Asian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii [Gray, 1844]) in Uzbekistan (Range, regional and landscape distribution, populations density). // Modern Herpetology, 2017, V. 17, issue 3/4. Pp. 124-146.

UNEP-WCMC. 2016 . Review of species selected on the basis of the Analysis of 2016 CITES export quotas. UNEP-WCMC. Cambridge. Available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/pdf/reports/

Global Forest Coalition by Andrey Laletin and Elena Kreuzberg

Dr. Andrey Laletin, Coordinator for Central Asia and Easter Europe, ETI campaign and membership coordinator, Russian Federation

In July 2018, we participated in the Fostering Community Conservation Conference, organized by the Global Forest Coalition (GFC) and meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), where the members of GFC took part. Both events were held in Montreal, Canada, where the Secretariat of CBD is located and the meeting of the parties was held. The Global Forest Coalition took a part in the CBD meeting, promoting the ideas of community participation in the post-2020 biodiversity framework. 

Discussion during Fostering Community Conservation Conference

The GFC is a relatively young organization. It was founded in 2000 by 19 NGOs and Indigenous People Organizations IPOs) succeeding the NGO Forest Working Group established in 1995. The Forest Working Group coordinated by Netherlands National Committee of IUCN and the World Rainforest Movement led the multi-stakeholder initiative to address the underlying causes deforestation and forest degradation. Until 2005, the Global Forest Coalition was formally hosted by the World Rainforest Movement. In 2005, it was registered as an independent foundation in the Netherlands. Currently, this is a coalition of NGOs and IPOs from more than 65 countries defending social justice and rights of the forest people. 

The mission of the Global Forest Coalition is to advocate for the conservation and restoration of forest ecosystems, through defending and promoting respect for the rights, territories, traditional knowledge and sustainable livelihoods of the Indigenous Peoples, local communities and women that co-exist with them.

Forest degradation and unsustainable management is a problem in many countries of the world, where natural forests were replaced by mono-plantations

The vision of Coalition is based on several major principles:

  • Protect real forests, and the people dependent on them.
  • Protect the rights of forest peoples, including customary systems of forest governance and conservation, and the territorial rights to land of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
  • Halt deforestation and biodiversity loss. 
  • Recognition that plantations are not forests. 
  • Forests are not a commodity to be traded, forests are for life. 
  • Forests are key to the climate crisis. 
  • Biodiversity through cultural diversity is vital to biodiversity conservation and the protection of forest ecosystems, with an emphasis on inter-generational dialogue and the crucial role of young people.

The Global Forest Coalition’s work is based on its strategy to campaign through its broad membership and in coordination with other allies, alliances, movements and networks, to support the struggles of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and women by bring their views, positions and proposals to the forefront of local, national, and global forest-related decision-making processes.

Participants of the Fostering Conservation Community Conference in Montreal, July 2018

The Global Forest Coalition supports and coordinates joint NGO/IPO campaigns for socially and effective forest policy and the rights of Indigenous and other forest peoples. The members of coalition work on campaigns to defend rights, to prevent forest loss and land conversion to mono-culture, to support community conservation. They cooperate with other organizations and allies against unsustainable livestock, raising awareness about impact of such production, promoting more sustainable community-based initiatives. GFC works together with a large number of women’s movements, enhancing  women’s rights and empowerment. The list of activities can be continued. However, the more information about current and past activities of the Global Forest Coalition can be found on its website: https://globalforestcoalition.org/ 

In general, the Global Forest Coalition promotes participatory approach and good governance, which serve as a basic precondition for sustainable development, and facilitates development of the bottom-up approaches for building new scenarios of life within the “planetary boundaries”.