The Central Asian region harbours the largest intact and still interconnected grasslands worldwide. It is of global importance for many migratory mammals, which rely on large steppe, desert and mountain ecosystems that still enable essential long-distance movements and ensure their long-term survival. Mass migrants in this region include CMS-listed species such as the Saiga Antelope Saiga spp., Mongolian Gazelle Procapra gutturosa and Kulan Equus hemionus.
Facing varying environmental conditions across space and time that define habitable areas, these species depend on moving freely over long distances, including across international borders. The region is one of the world’s last remaining hotspots of large ungulate migrations, which are both a wonderful spectacle and a key structuring force for the ecosystems, often referred to as the “Serengeti of the North”.
While the expanse, remoteness and difficult terrain of the region have still left large parts mostly untouched by modern civilization, migratory mammals are in decline, with some species having undergone dramatic population reductions in recent decades. Saiga antelope populations for instance have declined by 95 per cent in ten years following the collapse of the Soviet Union due to excessive poaching and trade in the species’ meat and horn.
The situation is about to deteriorate further since central Asia is not only rich in biodiversity, but also rich in oil and gas, metals and coal. Numerous long-distance railways and road networks are being constructed to provide the infrastructure for the large-scale extraction of natural resources and economic development, leading to widespread destruction and fragmentation of grasslands and ecosystems. Many migration routes are at risk of becoming bisected by railways, fences and pipelines causing barriers to essential movements to feeding and breeding grounds. Poaching, habitat degradation from overgrazing by livestock and conversion to agriculture, overhunting, illegal trade and potentially climate change put further pressure on the animals. Because many populations are already small, the impact of these various threats is likely to be further exacerbated.
There is thus an urgent need for science-based and internationally coordinated conservation measures across Range States, ensuring the survival of the species, their migrations and habitats, as well as sustainable benefits to people.
CMS is already working together with many central Asian countries and organizations to halt this trend, inter alia through the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) for the Conservation of the Saiga Antelope, Bukhara Deer and Siberian Crane. In addition, Recommendation 9.1 on Eurasian Aridland Mammals recognizes that the populations of many Eurasian migratory mammals have an unfavourable conservation status and that these ecosystems and their unique migration phenomena are a crucial area of action for CMS. Additional targeted activities carried out under CMS to improve the conservation of single species include the development of an international Action Plan for the conservation of the Argali Ovis ammon.
CMS is also working to address the rapid growth of linear infrastructure in the region, specifically to understand and reduce its impact on migratory mammals. Removing barriers to migration has become a key priority for the conservation and free movement of many steppe and mountain ungulates. In central Asia, and Mongolia in particular, the number of large infrastructure projects being planned or already under construction has increased rapidly over the last years, resulting in serious obstacles for several migratory ungulates. Please visit the threats section for an overview on the work of CMS on infrastructure and barriers to migration.
Against this background and based on the different mandates, CMS has strengthened its engagement in central Asia to conserve migratory mammals, their habitats and the vital role they play for intact ecosystems. With an initiative to strengthen the conservation of central Asian migratory mammals, CMS aims to provide a common framework to coordinate conservation activities in the region and coherently address major threats. It is based on activities focused on single species (including existing MOUs/Action Plans and those in development); and activities to address urgent and major threats faced by all or most of the species.
CMS provides the ideal international policy frameworks to facilitate close collaboration amongst stakeholders. CMS policies include the removal of barriers to migration, the building of transboundary ecological networks (e.g. Resolution 10.3) and the maintenance of animal migration in central Asia as one of the last global “migration hotspots”. Through developing an initiative for central Asian mammals the treaty is acting as a catalyst to foster collaboration between all stakeholders, with the aim to harmonize and strengthen the implementation of CMS and its instruments targeting large mammals.
In February 2014, the Secretariat in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) launched a dialogue process and stakeholder survey to assess the gaps and needs with regard to migratory mammal conservation in the wider central Asian region. This process included consultations and interviews with governments and stakeholders involved in species conservation. With support of the national offices of the GIZ, it was possible to conduct national stakeholder consultations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in May 2014.
The results of this assessment fed into the development of a Programme of Work for the Central Asian Mammals Initiative (CAMI) as a coherent regional strategy to guide implementation of CMS and its instruments targeting central Asian migratory mammals. Financial support for this process was made available from the Government of Switzerland and the European Union via the GIZ in the framework of the FLERMONECA Regional Project Forest and Biodiversity Governance Including Environmental Monitoring.
A regional "Stakeholder Meeting on the Conservation of Large Mammals in Central Asia" took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (23-25 September) to develop and finalize the Programme of Work.
The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CMS (COP11), which took place on 4-9 November 2014 in Quito, Ecuador, adopted Resolution 11.24 The Central Asian Mammals Initiative (CAMI), and its associated Programme of Work. The COP11 also adopted the International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of Argali Ovis ammon (English, Russian), and the Guidelines for Addressing the Impact of Linear Infrastructure on Migratory Large Mammals in Central Asia.
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