On the plateau of Ustyurt, there are more than 250 species of vertebrates and about 700 species of higher vascular plants. One of the key representatives of the Ustyurt fauna is saiga (Saiga tatarica tatarica). This species can be considered as an indicator of the sustainability of the use of biodiversity. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of lowland ecosystems and maintaining the productivity of natural pastures. Ustyurt is one of the few places on the Earth where saigas are still preserved. This unique animal, which inhabited the great steppe area of Eurasia in the past, over the last decade has become one of the most endangered species on the planet. In recent years, the world saiga population has declined by more than 95% (Milner-Gulland et al, 2003). According to the IUCN classification, the saiga is classified as Critically Endangered.
The biological resources of the Ustyurt Plateau are not considered by the local population as capital to which they can steadily manage and receive permanent and reliable benefits. Instead, they view biodiversity as a free and common resource that needs to be used immediately, until it is used by someone else. For example, due to the relative availability and absence of any mechanisms to protect the saiga population in the post-Soviet period, this species was overexploited, which led to a sharp reduction in all parts of the range, including the Ustyurt plateau. The demand for saiga horns for the needs of the black market in China and other countries in South-East Asia, against the backdrop of a low level of control of illegal hunting in the countries of the range, has served as an incentive for excessive use of the species.
The Ustyurt population of saigas is transboundary. It is located in the administrative borders of the two countries – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In the past, part of the population migrated further south to Turkmenistan. Throughout the year saigas move between summer and winter pastures, migrating in winter to Uzbekistan, and returning to Kazakhstan in the spring. In Uzbekistan, there are also small groups that live in the Aral Sea and on the dried bottom of the Aral Sea.
In spite of the environmental measures carried out on the territory of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as a number of international agreements signed by these countries (Memorandum of Understanding on the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the saiga within the framework of the Convention on Migratory Species, the Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Uzbekistan on Conservation Saiga and its habitats), it is the transboundary nature of the population that leads to problems related to the implementation of concerted actions to protect it. For example, when poachers come to the territory of one country from another territory, and then return to their country, they can easily escape punishment. It also makes it difficult to monitor animals and causes difficulties in coordinating research at the same time and in the same way in order to estimate the overall population size.
A big problem for the saiga, as in the past, so now are infrastructure projects. In the 70-ies. In the 20th century oil and gas fields were discovered on Ustyurt and geologists, gas workers and oilmen flooded it. Very quickly in place of livestock farms grew villages, paved roads and railways on the sections of Kungrad-Beineu. All this affected the saiga. Animals perished in the trenches of the gas pipeline under construction, died under the wheels of trains and simply from the hands of hunters, who did not kill for food, but for fun. V. Bochin (2005) referring to O.P. Bogdanov, describes the case when, during the laying of a trunk gas pipeline in 1975, pipes with a diameter of 1060 mm were laid alongside a dug trench, which became an obstacle on the migratory path of animals. During this period, about 1,000 dead male saigas were found on a 120 km route from Urga to the north.
In 2012, on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, a border fence made of barbed wire grew, which completely blocked the traditional migratory routes of the saiga. The border fence was built upon Kazakhstan’s accession to the customs union with Russia and Belarus. Approximately at the same time on the Kazakh side of the plateau, the Shalkar-Beineu and Zhezkazgan-Saksaulsky railroads were built, passing through the habitats of not only the Ustyurt, but also the neighboring Betpak-dala saiga population. Thus, the Ustyurt saiga ki fell into a real trap. The population, cut off from traditional wintering grounds, was cut at once in several places by the lines of two railways and a high-speed transcontinental route, a border fence and branches of gas pipelines. In addition, the plateau is covered with a dense network of dirt roads, through which heavy trucks belonging to oil and gas and transport companies are moving. Trucks increase the factor of concern and cause serious damage to the soil and vulnerable vegetation cover of the region, reducing their product innovation. Sadly, neither at the time of planning nor during the construction and operation of infrastructure facilities were potential risks and losses for biodiversity assessed, none of the projects suggested the use of the four principles of international financial corporations: avoid-minimize-restore-compensate for damage to biodiversity, AND All this against the backdrop of continuing poaching and natural disasters.
Since 1990, when the population of the Ustyurt population was the maximum (265 thousand wasps) and until 2015, when the population was minimal (1,270 o.), It declined by 99.5%.
It would seem that there is no way out for a poor relic antelope. However, I want to believe that everything is not so. In the world there are people who are not indifferent to the problems of nature, there is a thought-out strategy for preserving the species, uniting the states in which this unique species lives, there are real steps leading to positive changes and bearing optimism for the restoration of the former saiga livestock and its habitat.
As a conservation measure in 2008, the saiga has been listed in the Red Book of the Republic of Uzbekistan with the status – vulnerable (3VU). In the same year, work began on revising the status of the Saigachiy Reserve to enhance the effectiveness of saiga conservation and the ecosystem of the Ustyurt plateau as a whole, which was successfully completed in July 2016, when the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a decree on the formation of a complex (landscape) reserve “Saigachiy” “. Territorial protection is a key point in preserving not only a separate species, but the whole complex of flora and fauna of the Ustyurt region, its unique historical and cultural monuments, maintaining traditions and increasing the socioeconomic level of the population.
The adoption of measures to mitigate the impact of the border fence in 2016, when changes were made to the design of the fence in accordance with the recommendations of K. Olson (2013) – openings for migration at 125 sites of 150 km of the border facility (Putilin, 2016) were suspended Ustyurt population. According to aerial survey data of 2017, the Ustyurt population had an increase of 42.1% compared to 2016 (data of the Forestry and Hunting Committee of the MEP RK and the Kazakhstan Association for Conservation of Biodiversity), which, although timid, gives hope for the restoration of the livestock population.
The Saiga Conservation Alliance, in partnership with international and local organizations, is carrying out a huge work with the population living in saiga habitats in Uzbekistan. One of the most striking examples is the Saiga Day, which for many years has grown into an event of international significance. The festival is timed to the spring hike of the saiga, symbolizing the birth of a new life. Saiga Day is an innovative and unique, in its way, a method aimed at increasing the involvement of local people in the process of conservation. Summer ecological camp “Saigachiy”, Day of Migratory species, Day of reserves, Ecological marathon in protection of saiga, Saiga cup and ecological theater pursue the same goal and successfully practice in Uzbekistan.
As a result of periodic assessments conducted by the Saiga Conservation Alliance, numerous confirmations of the effectiveness of these programs have been found. The secret of success is a clear focus on the positive aspects of nature protection, in contrast to standard approaches, where the emphasis is on the negative impact of man on nature. Such a “pessimistic” approach deprives the participants of inspiration and confidence, as subconsciously it seems that it is too late to change something. Investigations of how emotions affect cognitive brain work indicate that negative emotions block creative thinking, limiting abstract reasoning and reducing solutions to the simplest and quickest. This type of thinking is a reaction to stress, associated with the perception of negative, sensitive information (for example, poaching is the illegal killing of animals, which is the main reason for the decline in the saiga population). Positive emotions on the contrary, stimulate abstract, creative thinking, motivation and interest, pushing the brain to find more effective integrated solutions. It is not surprising that positive learning is often recognized as the most effective approach to educational activities (especially in the field of nature conservation), which is the basis of the Alliance’s social programs.
Over a 10-year period, a generation of citizens who consider the preservation of nature their personal business has grown up. The hymn of the saiga, written by a resident of Karakalpakstan Koblon Edenbaev, became the anthem of a whole generation of young residents of Ustyurt. This gives rise to great optimism and confidence in the future of the saiga and other unique species of animals and plants in Ustyurt.