The curious case of the Caucasus

02 May 2010 | News story

The Caucasus is one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots. The impressive diversity of plants and animals that can only be found in this region makes it a globally important place for biodiversity conservation. But climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources, such as poaching, illegal logging or overfishing are growing threats to this unique mosaic of life. IUCN’s Southern Caucasus office, together with active participation of national governments, its eight member organizations and communities, has taken up the challenge to protect it.



Listen to Anja Wittich, Programme Coordinator from IUCN’s Southern Caucasus office explain IUCN’s conservation work in the region.

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IUCN is coordinating a growing number of activities in the Southern Caucasus – the area covering Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – to address challenges to sustainable development in the region and preserve its unique biodiversity.

IUCN’s work focuses on the development of the protected area system and suitable governance types for existing and newly created protected areas. Other IUCN projects focus on forest governance, environmental legislation and sustainable use of natural resources.

Stretching between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus region is located at a biological crossroads.

“Here is the meeting point of species from Central and Northern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and species found nowhere else in the world”, says Anja Wittich, Programme Coordinator from IUCN’s Southern Caucasus office.

This impressive diversity of species is the result of the region’s unique topography with three major mountain chains separated by valleys and plains. This allows the development of a variety of microclimates, soils and vegetation.

The number of endemic species - that is species that can only be found in this region - is rarely seen in other parts of the world: around 1,200 plant species and more than 50 animal species are endemic to the area. The Caucasus is also home to many locally and globally threatened species such as the Caucasian tur (a mountain dwelling goat), the Armenian mouflon or the Caucasian leopard, whose numbers have dramatically declined due to habitat loss, poaching and decline of prey species.

But the Caucasus is also one of the world’s most ethnically complex regions, with many serious conflicts that create significant challenges to conservation work.

“These are countries that are still developing their identities and economies so conservation is certainly not among the highest priorities,” explains Anja.

Poverty is another serious problem in the region, strongly influencing the use of natural resources.

“If people go to the forest and cut trees, if they go poaching, if they don’t care about the water they are using, this seriously affects the environment. But they do it to survive.”

But IUCN wants to make sure that nature conservation contributes to enhancing the lives of local communities and so it seeks to engage them in its work.

“We work to change people’s attitudes. We can achieve wide acceptance of conservation if people understand that it is not only a value in itself, but that it can help them improve their lives,” Anja explains.

For more information about IUCN’s work in the Southern Caucasus region, please visit the office’s website: http://www.iucn.org/caucasus

Contact:

Anja Wittich, Programme Coordinator from IUCN’s Southern Caucasus office, e-mail: anja.wittich@iucn.org