Azerbaijan has partnered with The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), one of Germany’s oldest environmental associations to establish eight national parks and work with the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society to conserve precious habitats and species. Here, NABU’s Vice President and Head of International Projects, Thomas Tennhardt, talks about conservation and his own achievements, and tells us what’s up next for the organization
NABU works all around the world, so how do you choose where to take your expertise? Why did you feel Azerbaijan was an important place to focus on?
The Caucasus are a hotspot of global biodiversity and have been a NABU focus region for over 25 years. As NABU has decades of experience in the development of protected areas, we were asked by the government of Azerbaijan for support. We then helped with numerous national park assignments, as well as training park rangers. To date, eight national parks (Shirvan, Ag-Göl, Ordubad, Hirkan, Absheron, Altiaghaj, Goy Göl and Kyzyl Agash) have been established by the parliament and, through presidential decree, supported by NABU and the German Michael Succow Foundation. Between 10– 15 per cent of the country’s total area has now become internationally certified large-scale reserves. Since gaining independence, no other country among the transformational countries of the Caucasus region and Central Asia has accomplished as much as Azerbaijan in regard to nature conservation.
NABU has also financially supported the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society (AOS) for over 20 years. Azerbaijan is located on the migratory divide of Asia-African and European African train paths and is an important migratory bird resting place for many highly endangered migratory bird species in Eurasia. We have also managed several cross-border conservation projects with the Russian Republic of Dagestan in the north. A great achievement was the resettlement of the goitered gazelle in Azerbaijan.
NABU works to preserve unique ancient forests in Hirkan National Park. What has been your proudest achievement there to date?
The Hirkan forest, the cradle of European deciduous forests, is a hotspot of floristic and faunistic diversity, and NABU has been involved in the establishment of Hirkan National Park from the very beginning. Initial measures such as the expansion of its administrative infrastructure and training of staff were our number one priority. We also created a ranger programme and developed ecotourism as well as a common protection concept with Iran, which shares this forested area with Azerbaijan. We are really glad that Hirkan is on the potential UNESCO World Heritage List and will hopefully one day be nominated together with the forests on the Iranian side!
Tell us about some of the challenges in raising awareness with the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society
We have teamed up with other organizations, such as BirdLife, and their work with AOS has focused on the flyway for migratory birds: identifying and monitoring the important bird areas that are crucial stop-over sites for these birds, and addressing the problem of illegal killing of birds in the country. This has included educational campaigns, scientific surveys and advocacy work at the government level. That is important to us because Azerbaijan is a country of enormous importance for biodiversity conservation, due to its location in a Biodiversity and Endemic Bird Hotspot and on the migration corridor that connects East Europe and West Siberia to Africa.
In 2008 AOS got the status of BirdLife Partner Designate for its work in Azerbaijan. What has this meant for the organization?
That was certainly a highlight of the cooperation between AOS and NABU. Having representation in Azerbaijan is extremely important for BirdLife, as it ensures that local expertise continues to develop, and that local people are at the forefront of conservation efforts and lobby work. AOS has been actively involved in many BirdLife projects and campaigns, including the IBA Program and the Spring Alive and the Illegal Killing of Birds campaigns, and has contributed to the knowledge base that BirdLife is built on. We aim to strengthen this engagement further in the near future.
What’s next for your plans in Azerbaijan?
In early March BirdLife undertook a formal assessment of AOS, which confirmed its affiliation with BirdLife International but also highlighted that the difficult conditions for Civil Society to operate in Azerbaijan extend to the nature conservation movement. Therefore, BirdLife will continue to support the organizational development of AOS and to engage constructively with public agencies. In particular, we hope to draw more attention to the enormous potential of the country for ecotourism, and hope that we can contribute to building capacity for growth in this sector.
How can we get involved?
We are always very happy about support! Bird lovers – and those who want to become one – can participate in our migratory bird camps. They can also donate for our various international projects.
For a participation at the migratory bird camps please contact the NABU Federal Committee Caucasus please get in touch.
Images courtesy of Kai Gauger, Michael Heiss and NABU
Read our interview with Elchin Sultanov, society director of Azerbaijan’s Ornithological Society here
Read James Parry’s account of the Besh Bemarang bird camp here