Ask the SCA’s 2016 Small Grant Winner Vladimir Kalmykov of Course!
This year our Small Grants Programme was generously supported by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Due to this support we were able to award three great grass-roots conservation projects, which we will update you on over the course of the coming weeks.
Vladimir Kalmykov, from the Stepnoi Sanctuary in Astrakhan, Russia received a small grant to implement the project: ‘Public Outreach – an important tool in improving the protection of saiga inhabiting in the North-West Caspian’.
The saiga population of the North-West Caspian remains critically endangered, numbering about 3500 animals. Their main threat being poaching for their horns which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Interestingly, the Stepnoi Sanctuary was where the saigas which featured on the latest season of Planet Earth II were filmed!
About 2000 of these saigas live within the boundaries of the Stepnoi Sanctuary in the Russian Federation’s Astrakhan region, an area of over 100 hectares. 50,000 hectares of which is exempt from grazing livestock, and is one of the reasons the sanctuary is able to provide areas perfectly suited to both the saiga’s rutting and calving periods.
Currently, a team of 10 rangers is always on duty, working around the clock to ensure that not only do poachers never harm a single saiga, but that the territory they live in is kept in optimum condition. Rangers carry out many duties from putting out wildfires, creating and maintaining critically needed watering holes, and patrolling the entire area for over grazing and incursions by farmers and poachers, to carrying out wildlife education events at their headquarters. All this goes on despite the extremes of temperature they encounter, which range from 40o in the summer to -35o in the winter!
Thanks to the hard work of the rangers the sanctuary has a growing reputation as a centre for science and conservation of saigas and other wildlife in the region. To strengthen this important element of their work we awarded the ranger team a grant to fund a new portacabin and related fixtures.
This was delivered, VERY slowly and carefully over a matter of HOURS, as the route to the chosen spot was not tarmacked, and at times barely a dusty track! Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way, and the trailer and crane arrived at the remote spot deep in the Stepnoi Sanctuary, several hours away from the nearest road, let alone village, and placed it gently down, adjacent to another cabin we had previously funded.
This cabin is to act as a base for the rangers as they patrol their vast territory, allowing them to gain access to the areas furthest away from villages and roads. It will also act as a hub for visiting scientists, filmmakers and conservationists. The rangers aim to hold environmental education sessions there to inform local people about the important role the sanctuary plays in preserving their wildlife, and to inspire them to get involved in conservation.
The cabin was put to use almost immediately. The day after the installation of an electricity supply the rangers were able to welcome a team of scientists from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, at the Russian Academy of Sciences. This group were able to begin their long-term research project into the impact of wolves on the saiga population inhabiting the territory of the North-West Caspian. A short time after this they hosted a wildlife documentary film crew who were making a film about the Russian wilderness for the first Russian TV channel.