Communities take the lead on safeguarding mountain biodiversity in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a country of incredible natural beauty and rich culture. Its landscapes of mountains, meadows and ancient woods are home to a rich variety of plants and animals including some of the world’s most endangered species. Kyrgyz traditions emphasise co-existence with nature, yet rural poverty is driving local people to use natural resources unsustainably, disrupting the balance maintained by earlier generations. 

SRT grantee CAMP Alatoo seeks to address this trend, working with rural communities to secure their livelihoods and the long-term future of Kyrgyzstan’s mountain biodiversity. A key aspect of this involves engaging with herders and local governments to jointly develop and agree ways to sustainably use grassland meadows, which are heavily overgrazed by livestock. 

In 2019, CAMP Alatoo was approached by communities in the Ton district of Issyk-Kul oblast (region) for its support in safeguarding the biodiversity of their surrounding alpine meadows. In addition to grazing, these landscapes were under pressure from the illegal harvesting of plants and poaching of animals. Concerned that wildlife populations seemed to be falling, the community was keen to establish a conservation zone that they would manage themselves. 

The 140km2 Baibosun Reserve was created in July 2019, its boundaries decided jointly with communities. As the country’s first formal community-managed protected area, this ground-breaking pilot initiative for Kyrgyzstan places local people at the forefront of stewarding their natural resources. 

“We took the first steps to create a special reserve to protect our nature. Local residents must work together to preserve this for future generations,” said Baatyrbek Akmatov, a member of the community.

Initial baseline surveys found over 500 plant, 60 bird and 18 mammal species – including snow leopard, Pallas cat and stone marten – present in Baibosun. A small group of local hunters and fishermen have been trained by CAMP Alatoo and its partner Ilbirs Foundation to monitor the area, including by patrolling the site and setting camera traps. As well as deterring would-be poachers, these provide information on the movements of wild animals, which in turn informs management of the reserve, including future patrol routes. 

An important next step is to explore ways of securing the long-term financial viability of both the reserve and its surrounding villages. To this end, the team is working with local people to investigate the potential for sustainable tourism, including low impact nature-based activities such as hiking and horse riding, the sale of local products like cheese, and community members to host paying visitors.

Baibosun Reserve is the result of a deeply collaborative and participatory approach involving community representatives, local and national government, pasture management committees, and NGOs. As the first community-managed protected area in Kyrgyzstan, Baibosun holds national significance. While the premise for such reserves existed in law, there was until now no clear mechanism by which to actually establish them on the ground. The Baibosun model has created a blueprint for creating further community-managed reserves in Kyrgyzstan, supporting local people to lead the way in safeguarding nature.

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