In the south of Tajikistan, one of the five Central Asian countries, right on the border with Afghanistan, lies the Tigrovaja Balka reserve. Its reed-covered floodplain was the place where the Turanian tiger survived the longest (into the 1950s).
Bukhara deer still run around the floodplain forests and goitered gazelles spring in the surrounding deserts. It seems peaceful and quiet here, but is it really that ?
WWF-Norway has been involved in the project here since 2007. The aim of the project was to improve management of the reserve, improve conservation of Bukhara deer and goitered gazelle and – last but not least – to increase the capacity of local NGOs and to improve livelihoods of the local farming communities by introducing biogas for households and efficient irrigation techniques.
As part of the capacity building activities, lots of education work was done with the staff of the reserve including its director Nuritdin Saifulloev. He is an enthusiast of the reserve and is very dedicated to conservation goals. Among other things, Nuritdin is an excellent forester and it was under his lead that saksaul (the only desert tree in Central Asia) planting in the desert during the project turned out to be such a success.
However, as we learned during the years, Tajikistan’s unstable political situation and political games at all levels cause lots of instability and frequent rotations from the government and ministry level to local level. Favoritism is very common when someone is appointed to the post just because he or she has the right connections. As a result, one day in 2011 Nuritdin was fired and a new director was appointed. It did not take long before things took a turn to the worse. The new director started allowing cattle grazing in the reserve, tree logging and selling firewood and so on.
But capacity building for local NGOs for the last five years had not been in vain – they did not like what the new director was doing and started a campaign against his actions. The protests reached the top level and as a result, the new director was fired and Nuritdin was reinstated. Since Nuritdin was appointed by the top level, he does not “owe” anything to the local authorities and does not feel pressured by them. It is a small, but important victory. This victory shows that once the local NGOs learn that they can make a difference, it gives them confidence to fight their battles and achieve results.
Congratulations to Nuritdin and best of luck with further developing Tigrovaja Balka into a great nature reserve!