The Impact of Community Conservation Initiatives in the Uzbek Ustyurt

E.J. Milner-Gulland
Peter John Damerell
Elena Bykova

The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a migratory ungulate that inhabits the semiarid desert regions of Russia and Central Asia (Bekenov et al. 1998). The only surviving member of its genus, S. tatarica exists in two subspecies; S. t. mongolica found only in Mongolia and four populations of S. t. tatarica, found in Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan, two of which are transboundary (CMS 2010). After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 saiga populations decreased in size rapidly as a result of dramatically elevated levels of illegal hunting within saiga range states. This increase in uncontrolled hunting of saiga was caused by collapses in the rural economies of former Soviet states and the simultaneous removal of funding for saiga management (Milner-Gulland et al. 2001). In the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union saiga populations declined by more than 90%; a population crash which resulted in the species being listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN - the World Conservation Union (IUCN 2007). In 2006 the total population of S.t. tatarica was estimated at fewer than 70,000 animals; less than 8% of average 1980-1990 levels (CMS 2006)

Notable progress has been made in formally recognising the threat to the saiga. In 1995 the saiga was included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in an effort to control the trade in Saiga horn and in 2002, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) listed S. t. tatarica on its Appendix II. Additionally a foundation for international collaboration has been established through the coming into force in 2006 of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the CMS. A roadmap for saiga conservation laid out by the signatories of the MOU recognises the widely reported need for community-based approaches in scenarios where socio-economic factors are driving exploitation (Pimbert & Pretty 1995; Mainka & Trivedi 2002). 

This study aims to provide support for the future implementations of community outreach strategies for the conservation of saigas in Uzbekistan. In line with specific recommendations laid out in the action plan for saiga conservation (CMS 2006), a community engagement initiative featuring schools-based environmental education, a saiga celebration event (Saiga Day) based at village schools, an alternative livelihood scheme and participatory monitoring of saiga antelopes by community members have been established in the Uzbekistan portion of the Ustyurt Plateau. This study assesses the education-based activities and alternative livelihoods scheme in terms of their conservation impact.  The outcomes of the education-based intervention are compared with a counterfactual, an analogous situation where the intervention has not been employed. Such analysis provides strong evidence for the effectiveness or inadequacy of the employed intervention. Whilst requiring an initial investment of time and resources a critical evaluation helps to ensure that the maximum conservation benefits are being achieved per unit cost (Ferraro & Pattanayak 2006) and provides an evidence base on which decisions about future actions can be based.