"Friends of Conservation Islands" - a movement without borders

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The “Friends of Conservation Islands” movement was an initiative of the EcoCentres of the Strict Nature Reserves (zapovedniks) in Russia, which started in 2000. Photograph shows participants from Uzbekistan and Kalmykia at the award ceremony for the best ecological project. Photo by Dzhirgala Oldvurova.

"Friends of Conservation Islands" - a movement without borders

Update by Eugenia Samtanova, Yashkul' Multidisciplinary Gymnasium School in Republic of Kalmykia in Russia, and Natalya Shivaldova, "Ekomaktab" Ecological Resource Centre in Uzbekistan. Published in Saiga News Issue 20, on page 12.

In the beginning it only united conservation enthusiasts within Russia. This year the movement has stepped up to the international level, thereby proving that nature does not recognize borders. The International Youth Ecology Congress, "Friends of Conservation Islands", dedicated to the upcoming 100th anniversary of Russia's nature reserve system, was held in Voronezh on November 2nd-6th, 2015. Over 150 delegates (children, teachers, reserve staff, and university and senior school students) took part, from 24 regions of Russia and from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Steppe Wildlife Clubs at the International Youth Ecology Congress:

The theme of saiga protection and conservation ran like a scarlet thread through the congress. The Steppe Wildlife Clubs from Kalmykia and Uzbekistan acted as a united team and successfully presented their environmental protection projects. They held various technical and creative master classes, captivated the congress participants with the issue of saiga protection, and shared their original approaches to outreach work with the general public in saiga habitats.

The congress participants showed their concern about recent deplorable events affecting saigas: the mass mortality caused by a mystery disease in Kazakhstan; a border fence erected between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; the steppe fires in Russia; and continued poaching in all range states. A barrage of questions was hurled at speakers from the Steppe Wildlife Clubs, which then became a brainstorming session on ways to support the conservation efforts of the Steppe Wildlife Clubs and the Saiga Conservation Alliance. As a result of these discussions, the idea was put forward to support the saiga conservation movement by holding marathons in cities near saiga reserves in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, and in China, Europe and America. The idea was to hold the marathons simultaneously in different countries, thus emphasizing that migratory animals do not recognize any borders. This could attract the public's attention to the serious threats encountered by all saiga populations. What do you think of this idea? We suggest launching this initiative all over the world!

The Friends of Conservation Islands Congress in detail:

The ceremonial opening of the Congress was vivid and memorable; teams from various regions had prepared flags in advance with images symbolising the conservation areas they represented. A team form Kalmykia placed on their flag an image of a helpless lovely baby saiga, the symbol of the Living Heritage Steppe Wildlife Club and the Chernye Zemli Reserve. All the flags were then combined into a single large flag, a patchwork of the Friends of Conservation Islands movement, which solemnly sailed over all the participants to the sound of guitars and the hymn "To Conservation Islands" during the inauguration of the Congress.

The announcement of the results of the competition for ecological projects carried out in 2013-15 by members of the Friends of Conservation Islands movement was the most memorable and exciting part of the congress. The creation of the Steppe Wildlife Clubs network, under the guidance of Eugenia Samtanova in Russia and Natalya Shivaldova in Uzbekistan, won the competition. The winners were given diplomas and mini solar power stations.

Kalmykia was represented by members of the Living Heritage Steppe Wildlife Club (Yashkul' school), Elzyat Mandjiyev and Tamara Ubushayeva, as well as by the head of the Department for Ecological Education and Tourism Information of the Chernye Zemli State Nature Biosphere Reserve, Djirgala Oldvurova. The Uzbekistan team was represented by the heads of two of the most effective Steppe Wildlife Clubs; "Nadezhda" from high school № 37, Nukus city, headed by Madina Abdikarimova, and "Akboken" from high school № 54, Zhaslyk village, headed by Sadyrbai Shaimenov. The jury praised the valuable efforts of the amateur ecologists and young people in these countries. The main motto of the Steppe Wildlife Clubs is "Prevent the loss of saiga, a unique component of wildlife".

A concert and folk discotheque was an emotional continuation of the Congress. Every delegation showed all the colours of their different cultures in their dances and songs. The attendees were very interested in the Kalmyk dance called "Mingnbair", performed by Elzyat and Tamara.

A tour of the Peskov State Nature Biosphere Reserve in Voronezh was a vivid event for the Congress participants. Youngsters took part in an ecological quest and a "Congress Trail". There were very interesting and informative tours of the reserve and its museums. The closing ceremony of this notable ecological forum will be best remembered by ecologists; it summarised the outcomes of the Congress and adopted a resolution about the main directions of improvement for activities in Specially Protected Natural Areas in years to come.

The delegations left the hospitable land of Voronezh full of impressions and new ideas. We have truly become "friends of conservation islands" and hope that the caring spirit of concern for our land engendered by the Congress will not expire in the souls of the new generation of young ecologists embarking upon the noble path of nature protection.