Preserving biological diversity

Kazakhstan is ramping up efforts to conserve its biological diversity by creating protected zones for the flora and fauna found across its vast landmass.

As the human race encroaches ever more on nature, the need for controlled, safe areas for wildlife becomes increasingly important. Working together with the Government of Kazakhstan, UNDP has been instrumental in helping establish a key reserve in the centre of the country to protect the critically-endangered saiga antelope.

”When I was a young boy I remember seeing huge herds of saigas running across the Turgai steppe,” says Altai Zhumabekov, from Amangeldy, Kostanay Region. This experience sparked an interest in nature and inspired him to become a biologist.

He pursued his childhood dream and studied biology at university, and after graduating he found his dream job – head of research at the Altyn Dala State Nature Reserve, which opened in November 2012. The reserve was set up by the Government of Kazakhstan working together with UNDP, and its main office is located in Amangeldy

Altyn Dala is the most important area for the conservation of steppe and semi-desert habitats in Kazakhstan, and is home to a sizeable saiga population. Saigas spend the winter months in the reserve, during which time they mate. Crossing the reserve are vital migration routes for these endangered antelopes, whose numbers fell dramatically in 2015 due to an infectious disease and rampant poaching for their horns, which are highly valued in Chinese medicine.

Poaching is a major problem in Kazakhstan. In order to eradicate this menace, people living in the vicinity of Kazakhstan’s 27 officially recognized protected areas needed to be convinced of the value of conserving nature and the economic benefits that this could bring to them.

In 2015, Kazakhstan’s Fund for Financial Support of Agriculture teamed up with UNDP to offer interest-free microcredit under the Eco Damu programme to help develop small enterprises in villages located close to the country’s protected nature reserves and national parks.

One of the first recipients of funding from this programme was Meirman Tuleukul, who lives near the Aral Sea in Kyzylorda Region. Meirman used the credit to start his own business producing handmade souvenirs to sell to tourists.

Eco Damu has enabled other residents to establish their own enterprises to serve the growing tourist trade in and around the reserves and parks. With the help of grants, guest houses have been built, national handicrafts have been revived and the agricultural sector has received a boost with honey, livestock and locally-grown fruit and vegetables used to feed visitors.

“Over 400 people work in re-established, specially protected nature reserves,” says UNDP Project Manager Talgat Kerteshev, who specializes in biodiversity conservation. ”People living around national parks and reserves gain financial benefits from tourist accommodation, catering services and the sale of souvenirs.”

Besides helping to protect saigas and conserve the delicate eco-system, Altyn Dala has provided the younger generation with secure jobs and a stable future. “I am pleased that now our rural youth can have permanent work and contribute to conserving the steppe’s unique biodiversity,” says Altai.