Whitebread, Elisabeth (2008). Evaluating the potential for participatory monitoring of saiga antelope by local villagers in Kalmykia, Russia. (pdf)

Elisabeth Whitebread

Participatory monitoring, that is, monitoring which involves local people in the process of monitoring natural resources, is becoming an increasingly popular tool to engage community members in conservation whilst at the same time collecting data at low cost. However, there are few examples of participatory monitoring of migratory species within the literature, as well as few where the local people responsible for monitoring are not themselves users of the resource they are monitoring. Saiga antelope are a critically endangered nomadic ungulate of the Central Asian and Eurasian steppe, whose dramatic decline in the last decade has been mainly attributed to poaching by poor members of local communities.

This study aims to investigate the potential for participatory monitoring of the saiga in the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, a stronghold for one of the five remaining populations. A pilot project was set up and monitors were selected from villages neighbouring two nature reserves. They recorded observations of saiga on an opportunistic basis, and twice a month spent some time deliberately searching for saiga as a measure of effort. Attitudinal surveys were performed to ascertain local people’s opinion of the participatory monitoring scheme, and costs were compared with those of rangers at the reserves. Both monitors and rangers were assessed in terms of their accuracy when counting saiga. Whilst some monitors saw no saiga during the data collection period, others saw a fairly high number, and there was a significant correlation between the length of the data collection period and the number of saiga seen. Local attitudes towards the scheme were overwhelmingly positive, although the sample size was small. There was no difference between the accuracy of monitors and rangers, and both groups showed a tendency to overestimate group sizes the larger they were. Although this project has only analysed the first couple of month’s of the six-month pilot project, and although the group sizes are small, participatory monitoring of saiga antelope in Kalmykia seems to have potential.