Announcing the winners of the 2016 SCA Small Grants Programme, supported by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Announcing the winners of the 2016 SCA Small Grants Programme, supported by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Carlyn Samuel, Saiga Conservation Alliance,

This year we are pleased to be supporting three exciting projects proposed by local conservationists within the saiga range.

The first winner is theRanger team of the Stepnoi Sanctuary,Russian Federation.The status of the saiga population of the north-west pre-Caspian remains very precarious, numbering about 3500 animals. The main threat is poaching. About 2000 saigas live within the Stepnoi Sanctuary. Currently, a team of 10 rangers is always on duty, working around the clock to ensure that not only do poachers never harm a single saiga, but that the territory they live in is kept in optimum condition. Rangers carry out many duties from putting out wildfires, creating and maintaining critically needed watering holes, and patrolling the entire area to prevent overgrazing and incursions by farmers and poachers, to carrying out wildlife education events. All this goes on despite the extremes of temperature they encounter, which range from 40o in the summer to -35o in the winter! Thanks to the hard work of the rangers the sanctuary has a growing reputation as a centre for science and conservation of saigas and other wildlife in the region. To strengthen this important element of their work we will be funding a new portacabin. This will be placed inside the sanctuary and will act as a hub for visiting scientists, filmmakers and conservationists. The rangers will also be able to hold environmental education sessions there to inform local people about the important role the sanctuary plays in preserving their wildlife, and to inspire them to get involved in conservation.

Bibigul Sarsenova, Chair of the Association 'Society and Environment', in theRepublic of Kazakhstan, is another award winner. The award will enable her to review public attitudes to the challenge of conserving the Ural saiga population in Kazakhstan, which currently numbers around 70,000 animals. She will be working with colleagues at ACBK and the local network of children's Steppe Wildlife Clubs to identify the causes of poaching in the region and the attitudes local people hold towards the saiga. Bibigul will also be working with these groups to carry out environmental education activities focused on the challenges facing these critically endangered antelopes, and will be reaching out to students of local schools, art groups, environmental organizations and public institutions, as well as looking to engage with new schools in the area with the aim of setting up new Steppe Wildlife clubs. Her project will also see her hosting guided tours at the Centre for Wildlife and Conservation of Biodiversity in the Taskalinskom district of West Kazakhstan, where there is a saiga captive breeding programme.

Finally, Ekatherina Ochirova and Nadezhda Pyurvenova from the Republic of Kalmykia, Russiahave been awarded a Small Grant to develop a booklet called 'Saiga - living heritage of our ancestors'. The saiga antelope features prominently in poems, songs, paintings and folklore, which will be gathered together in this booklet and distributed to schools and libraries in the region. It will draw together historical works which illustrate how entwined saigas are in the cultural heritage of local people, and aims to inform and inspire people to conserve the species through highlighting the ancient links, symbolism and culture woven through a shared history. It will also educate the reader about modern day challenges facing saiga conservation, including the tragic story of the famous local ranger, Uldis Knakis who laid down his life to protect saigas. This powerful booklet will help people understand the importance of the species and the part everyone can play in its conservation.

Congratulations to all our award winners, we are looking forward to hearing more about your projects in the near future.