Sturgeons are iconic fish across the Northern Hemisphere. Nevertheless, few are aware that the Rioni river in Georgia is one of their most important refuges.
In our two months in Georgia, we have met many people who work in the field of nature conservation: protected area staff including rangers and visitor centre specialists, environmental NGOs, the government’s Agency of Protected Areas and activists to get an insight into nature conservation in Georgia has developed since the collapse of the Soviet Union and, most importantly, the way forward for the future.
In this article, we want to cover three important pillars in Georgian nature conservation which we have not specifically covered so far: funding with a special focus on the Caucasus Nature Fund, the political agenda to enlarge the protected area network made possible by the Agency of Protected Areas, and the crucial work of rangers.
Vashlovani Protected Areas, which are often referred to as the Georgian Savannah, is the only region in Georgia which was once inhabited by the goitered gazelle. However, due to the unsustainable level of hunting and poaching since the 1930s, the range and numbers of this medium-sized grazer declined rapidly, and in the 1960s, the species was declared extinct in the country.
Nowadays, Vashlovani hosts over 200 goitered gazelles thanks to trans-border cooperation and several rounds of trial and error, which shows the fragile process of species reintroduction.
We had the chance to meet some of the key players who contributed to what eventually became a conservation success, while also being able to observe these and other majestic animals with our own eyes.
The four days we spent in the winter wilderness of Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park took us through rich evergreen forests, alpine meadows and snowy high mountain peaks, while giving us a few new lessons on survival.
Borjomi-Kharagauli encompasses one of Georgia’s last major intact forest wilderness, and provides refuge to many of the Caucasus´s rich wildlife, such as brown bear, wolf, chamois, lynx and red deer. It is the first national park of the country, established after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has faced many difficulties from the early days onwards in the attempt to stop poaching and illegal logging. Nowadays, the efforts to protect this unique biodiversity are intensified, while local communities have realized the potential of sustainable ecotourism.
Throughout its 30 years of existence, NACRES has become a centrepiece in the conservation puzzle of Georgia. We had the chance to accompany the conservation team on their field work to monitor the East Caucasian turs in the mountainous Kazbegi National Park. We spent the days searching for Caucasian turs on the majestic slopes of the Kazbegi National Park, while the evenings were filled with talks about Georgian biodiversity, human-wildlife conflict, effectiveness of protected areas and capacity building of rangers.