Nature Conservation
Eva Kleinn and Rodney Jackson

Fast increasing population density, the dramatic economic situation of the inhabitants and the sudden stop in the supply of coal from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union have dramatically increased pressure on the natural resources of the Pamirs.

The hunting of ibex and Marco Polo sheep is officially controlled through licences. Nevertheless, they are poached intensively by the local population and border guards as a free food resource. Although several censuses were conducted in the 1990s, the current size of the Marco Polo population is unknown, but it is judged to be less than 10,000 or 8,000. The most immediate threat is from hunting by military and government officials, as well as from the rental of firearms to the local population: according to some reports, community centres employ 4-5 hunters to supply households with argali meat, which sells at half the price of mutton or yak meat.

Predators like the snow leopard, brown bear, lynx and especially the wolf, are considered serious pests by livestock herders, who will shoot them if they have access to rifles but who more typically set out baited leg-snare traps.

The tugai forests in the deep valleys have been excessively cut down for heating and cooking fuel, and the main fodder plant, teresken (Ceratoides papposa), is collected in large quantities. Over-exploited teresken sites are quickly degraded by wind and water erosion, as this plant is the main soil stabiliser with an extensive root network several meters in diameter. Besides its heating qualities, teresken is also the most important pasture plant in the Pamirs, being able to grow in habitats unsuitable for other plants. However, teresken grows very slowly and a plant of 30 cm in height can be 50-80 years old.

Two large protected areas have recently been established: the Zorkul Strict Nature Reserve around Lake Zorkul and the Tajik National Park, which has an area of 2.6 million ha. and covers the northern part of GBAO. However, management in these parks is weak, and for the time being these protected areas exist mainly on paper.

While protected areas alone are not the solution to nature conservation problems in the Pamirs, if well-managed they can have a catalyst function for the local population, whose day-to-day life is dependent on the use of natural resources. The arable land area and pastures in the Pamir region are not sufficient to feed the population of the area, and therefore there is an urgent need to develop other sources of income, such as tourism, medicinal plants, processing of agricultural and cattle products, processing of semi-precious stones or traditional handicrafts.

In addition to economic incentives, educational outreach initiatives are urgently needed to ensure that local people perceive animal species, and their prey, as being more valuable alive than dead: community-based wildlife stewardship, linked with ecotourism, is one option for achieving this goal. Tourists can do their share by not accepting the meat of rare animals if served in restaurants and by not buying furs or other hunting trophies.

A priority option for GBAO could also be the development of new energy resources, e.g. using water, wind and solar energy, in order to reduce the collection of fuel wood and teresken. This would also aid in the restoration and sustainable use of the tugai forests in the Western Pamir valleys.