Evaluating stakeholder perceptions towards the Saigachy Reserve

Evaluating stakeholder perceptions towards the Saigachy Reserve

Sonia Dhanda1, Elena Bykova2, E.J. Milner-Gulland3,2

1. Imperial College London, sonia.k.dhanda@gmail.com; 2. Saiga Conservation Alliance; 3. Oxford University


The Saigachy Reserve in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan was gazetted in 1991 to conserve the Ustyurt saiga antelope population. The reserve has just been re-designated from an IUCN category IV protected area to a Complex Landscape Reserve (see News Update above); the equivalent to an IUCN category 1b protected area. The upgraded reserve aims to be an effective protected area with designated funds, resources and management financed through offsetting of the environmental damage from oil and gas industrial developments in the region.

Prior to the re-designation a collaborative project between Imperial College London and the Saiga Conservation Alliance was undertaken to understand stakeholders' perceptions and attitudes towards the Saigachy Reserve. This consultation aimed to give the opportunity for all those who may be positively or negatively affected by the Reserve to be able to contribute towards management planning. We also evaluated the usefulness of this approach to participatory stakeholder engagement for Protected Area planning in Uzbekistan.

Data collection was carried out between 24th April and the 18th June 2015 in the cities of Tashkent and Nukus as well as two rural settlements, Kyrk-Kyz and Kubla Ustyurt. We used focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires to understand which different groups were, or might be, affected by the Saigachy Reserve re-designation. We also asked them what benefits and costs the Reserve might pose for themselves and others, and what positive and negative impacts each group might have on the Reserve. We classified respondents into three groups:

  1. Local residents, encompassing individuals and groups from Kyrk-Kyz and Kubla Ustyurt villages.
  2. Official organisations, including all the government and international organisations; UNDP, SCNP, Gosbiokontrol, and the Department for Hunting and Fishing.
  3. Interested parties, comprising those with an indirect interest in the reserve such as scientists, teachers and archaeologists.

In total we held 11 focus groups with participatory exercises and 13 semi-structured interviews. Information on local residents' knowledge of saiga ecology and conservation was also collected through 34 questionnaires.


Overall, local people were knowledgeable on the status and trends of biodiversity in the Ustyurt region and understood the laws regarding saiga hunting.  The predominant theme from local residents, official organisations and interested parties was that local people would not be impacted by the reserve as they reside a great distance away from it and only herders and poachers visit the area, and then only infrequently. Saiga poaching may not be as prevalent as it once was, because saigas are now hard to find due to the drastic decline in their numbers in the area. Poaching was mentioned by each group of people, however, so it is still seen as one of the biggest threats to the Saigachy Reserve.

Stakeholder's perceptions of Saigachy reserve

The perceptions stakeholders held towards the current protected area and the re-designation process showed how different groups were affected by interconnected factors (figure 1).

Figure 1.Interconnected factors that influence perceptions towards the re-designation of the Saigachy reserve. This theoretical scheme is based on a study by Nastran.

Local residents have poor perceptions of the current reserve and its functions, displaying mistrust towards rangers and disbelief that the government will restore saigas as a reality. Official organisations acknowledged Saigachy reserve would not fulfill its goals until finance, capacity and management are provided for the reserve, allowing them to undertake their work to implement a well-managed reserve. Official organisations highlighted that the Saigachy Reserve was not on their current work agenda until the government signed off on the project, and so far UNDP have taken the main lead. Interested parties (scientists, teachers) showed encouragement for the re-designation process and had a positive outlook on the future of the reserve.

Costs, benefits and impacts of the reserve

Official organisations, interested parties and local residents were asked to state the potential benefits and costs to stakeholders of the reserve and to comment on how individuals or groups could have a positive or negative impact on the reserve. Similar points were raised in each discussion, so they have been amalgamated in Table 1.

Table 1:Common points of discussion across the stakeholder groups, on the benefits and costs of the reserve to different stakeholder groups, and the potential impacts of these groups on the success of the reserve


Positive Impacts

Local People

  • Provides employment (e.g. as rangers)
  • If the saigas are restored then saiga will return to being a game animal

Local People

  • Work done at the reserve (i.e. construction work, eco-tourism, rangers)


National and International Public

  • Preservation of natural heritage

Regional Government

  • Provide resources for the reserve (i.e. transport and fuel)

Regional Government

  • If saigas are restored they will be able to hunt saigas and gain profit

Oil and Gas Companies

  • Provide financial and technical support to the reserve


  • Research opportunities in the area




Negative Impacts


Oil and Gas Companies

  • Lack of prospecting opportunities in the reserve

Local People

  • Hunting for saiga horns and meat

Local People

  • Limited access to natural resources (i.e. livestock pastures)

Oil and Gas Companies

  • If further development occurs in the area then a negative impact on biodiversity

Evaluating the participatory planning approach

Overall this methodology was difficult to undertake in the region, partly due to restrictions on access to the settlements and partly due to the unfamiliar concept of this research process to the stakeholders involved. Despite these obstacles, some good information was collected from the stakeholders, demonstrating that when consulted, stakeholder groups can make helpful contributions.

Participatory processes are emerging and being piloted in Uzbekistan, and these approaches can complement and support the legal framework. Therefore the approach does show promise as a tool for supporting planning processes.


Recommendations are being implemented through the work of the Saiga Conservation Alliance in Ustyurt. Based on the outcomes of the study the following recommendations were suggested:

At the first stage after re-designation of the Saigachy Reserve:

  • Strengthening anti-poaching patrols across the Ustyurt saiga range.
  • Assisting with consultation on the Saigachy management plan, for example by providing indicators for monitoring both social and biological impacts of the reserve.
  • Providing updated information to local residents and stakeholders regarding the re-designation process.
  • Celebrating the re-designation with local and national ceremonies so the media and national government are actively involved.

At the second stage after re-designation of the Saigachy Reserve:

  • Develop an education programme at the reserve for schools to undertake field trips and ecological lessons.
  • Run workshops and capacity-building days for the rangers to build morale and their knowledge both about the ecology of the area and about the needs and priorities of local residents.
  • Strengthen relations with the saiga conservation team in Kazakhstan and work towards a trans-boundary protected area across the Uzbek-Kazak border.


The research was funded by the Whitley Fund for Nature through the Saiga Conservation Alliance. We are grateful to the Academy of Science in Tashkent for their support and to the research team in Uzbekistan. A special thank you to everyone who participated in the focus groups and interviews.