Saiga conservationists meet in Tashkent

Saiga conservationists meet in Tashkent

The meeting of the signatories to the MOU on saiga conservation (26th-29th October 2015) was also an opportunity for saiga conservationists and researchers to present the results of their work over the last few years. Photo of E.J. Milner-Gulland with 2015 Excellence in Saiga Protection Award winner Makhset Kosbergenov. Photo by: Alexander Esipov.

Update by E.J. Milner-Gulland, Saiga Conservation Alliance, published in Saiga News Issue 20, on page 6.

The recent meeting of the signatories to the MOU on saiga conservation (26th-29th October 2015) was the culmination of months of work by the CMS secretariat and their technical advisors at the SCA and IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, as well as our hosts in Uzbekistan. It was also an opportunity for saiga conservationists and researchers to present the results of their work over the last few years to their peers, and for free discussion and exchange of sometimes controversial ideas. Finally it was a chance to showcase some of the most inspiring saiga conservation initiatives, to celebrate the achievements of unsung heroes on the frontline of saiga conservation, to catch up with old friends and colleagues and make new acquaintances.

At this very difficult time for saiga conservation, where so many threats seem to be piling in on the species, and it is easy to feel despair, this chance to renew our mission was particularly well timed. For me, it gave hope that together we are strong enough to change things for the better.

At the beginning of the meeting we had two days of technical workshops, covering key issues in saiga conservation. These included reports of the latest information about the mass mortality of saigas in Kazakhstan in May 2015, a session on poaching and trade, and one on infrastructural development. These days were very well attended by members of the official delegations as well as the invited technical experts, and provoked lots of positive discussion both in the meeting room and the coffee breaks. A constructive atmosphere helped us to make useful improvements to the official documentation in advance of the formal meeting, and to produce agreed summaries of important issues and solutions for each of the themes. These will be available soon in the meeting report, which CMS is finalising.

The formal part of the meeting was more subdued - people were tired after the excitement of the technical meetings. However, importantly, we agreed our key documents; an overview report, which is now the internationally agreed statement on the status of the saiga across its range and measures taken to conserve it, and a Medium Term International Work Programme. This prioritised list of actions forms the foundation for all of our fundraising, action and evaluation for the next five years. The saiga is privileged to be a species that has such a clear and strong action plan, with international consensus behind it. Conservation would be in a much better situation if this amount of care and attention were given to all threatened species.

On Thursday afternoon came what for me was the highlight of the whole meeting. This was the Saiga Conservation Alliance's awards ceremony, where a platform was given for some of the most inspiring people working in saiga conservation to speak about their work in a personal way. They told us about their very different approaches to conservation, from intelligence-led policing to painting murals and writing newspapers with children, and came from all the countries where saigas are found. We had a great balance of the enthusiasm and initiative of our Young Conservation Leaders, and the long perspective and persistence in the face of difficulties of the winners of our awards for excellence in anti-poaching. It was an honour to hear these people speak, and to be able to recognise their hard work with an award in an international forum.

Friday morning was the Saiga Conservation Alliance's meeting. We had good attendance here as well, welcoming new friends to the SCA as well as bringing together long-standing partnerships. We welcomed old friend Anna Lushchekina to a Trustee position, and a new recruit to saiga conservation, Alyona Chukhatina, to the Steering Committee. Alyona has already proved her commitment to saigas and international collaboration by her great contributions to the Saiga Resource Centre website. The session ended with a series of brainstorming group sessions in which we examined the SCA's mission and strategy, and thought of new and innovative approaches to fulfilling these in the next few years.

With a final trip to Tashkent's buzzing bazaar, and a chance to get out into the beautiful autumn sunshine after an intense few days, the delegates dispersed to their various countries ready to implement the plans we had come up with. They left with new understanding of the difficulty and importance of the mammoth task ahead of us, but with the warmth of knowing that colleagues around the world - in government, NGOs and academic institutions - are ready to work together, and share expertise and funding to ensure that we can achieve our goals. United for saigas!

The documentation from the CMS meeting, including powerpoint slides from each section of the meeting, is online here.

The Saiga Conservation Alliance's meeting report and new strategy will be sent to all meeting attendees. If you did not attend and would like a copy, please email the Saiga Conservation Alliance.