PRESERVATION FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Last year, two significant events happened in the biography of the Amu Darya State Nature Reserve. Firstly, the nature reserve, which is located in the northern part of Lebap province, marked the 35th birthday in May. Secondly, a two-year Turkmen-German international project was completed in December.
The nature reserve was established with the view of preserving and restoring the ecosystems of the middle course of the river and adjacent areas of the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts, as well as developing a scientific framework for protection of environment. The nature reserve is unique for the fact that its territory is the only place in the country with Tugai (floodplain) forests under the state protection. They stretch for tens of kilometers along the banks of the river. According to experts, there grow 86 plant species. Bloomy poplar, euphrates and jungar willow are especially common.
Tugai forests, like other landscapes, are prone to natural-climatic and intensive anthropogenic impacts. Owing to the rapid development of agriculture, the level of water in Amu Darya is declining. One can also observe salinization of the riverbanks and reduction of natural habitats. That is why it is very important to preserve the relict floodplain forests for descendants.
This picture becomes more clear when one makes his way through the thickets to the singing of birds or enters a glade. Tugai forests are unique in their own way. They look especially beautiful on the river branches in the autumn. In such places, the water surface reflects like the mirror the golden attire of trees along the riverbanks.
Out of many fauna representatives inhabiting this amazing protected area, the European red deer is the main asset and adornment of Tugai forests. The dense floodplain vegetation provides favorable conditions for feeding and shelter throughout the year. The deer perfectly swims, easily overcomes the stormy currents of Amu Darya to reach the islands in the middle of the wide river with their lush vegetation and easily climbs the steep slopes thanks to its strong legs. The Amu Darya beauty weighs 100 and more kilograms. The animal's color is grayish-brown with a yellowish tinge. The deer's spine is well-marked by the dark strip.
As noted in the special literature, animals in Tugai forests are sedentary, sticking to permanent habitats. At the same time, in the spring, during the vegetation period of the acute desert sedge, and in the summer, when blood-sucking insects disturb the deer heavily, they go to graze to the parts of the desert adjacent to Amu Darya.
The rut starts in the middle of September and ends in the second half of October and early November. According to the inspectors of the nature reserve, in the mating period, the fighting roar of the deer and sounds of the violent clash of their tilted horns can be heard from far away.
It is extremely difficult to see this rare and cautious animal in the natural environment. Even at the habitual watering place at the river, a male deer would be the first to come out of the thickets. He would stand still for long, looking around and listening, and only after making sure that everything is quiet, he would give a signal to his family. If the deer sees people, then, without choosing the path, it rushes away to the thickets of Tugai forests throwing his head high back.
Seeing this graceful creature listed in the Red Data Book of Turkmenistan is only possible in the spacious enclosure of the nature reserve. There is a separate pen in the enclosure with a roof made of desert bushes, serving as a shelter for an eight-year-old male in the cold season and during rains. He was still a baby when he strayed from his mother and came to a remote village on the opposite right bank of Amu Darya. The young deer was handed over to the inspector of the nature reserve, who brought him to the enclosure by a motor boat. The grown up animal behaves quite calmly at the sight of unfamiliar people, posing to cameras and staying away from the fence.
It is at this enclosure that the excursions stay longest, admiring the beautiful creation of nature. In the other pen, there are the younger and less impressive male and female deer named Tahir and Zuhra respectively.
Construction of a new deer pen, occupying 2.5 hectares among Tugai forests (which is especially important) in the territory of the Kabaklinsk site, nears completion. This pen was ordered by the State Committee of Turkmenistan for Environmental Protection and Land Resources.
The space enclosed by the metal grid will be divided into two communicating parts with a gate. The smaller part will have a laboratory, a veterinary hospital and ancillary facilities, as well as aviaries for pheasants. The larger part with an artificial earthy hill will house only three deer from the pens in the reserve's yard. They will feed on natural vegetation, plus they will have additional feeding. There will be created most natural conditions for rare animals. One can hope that the population of Tugai forest deer will grow there to the people's joy and will be transferred to the capital's zoo...
- Established 35 years ago, the Amu Darya State Nature Reserve has fully proved its worth, helped to practically restore the natural ecosystems, reproduce rare species of animals and plants on a vast territory," acting head of the reserve Akhmetzhan Sadykov said. According to our employees, the population of Tugai forest European red deer increased approximately six fold to about 120 individuals. The number of Red Book-listed wild boars and pheasants and other representatives of fauna continues to grow steadily in the floodplain woodlands. The population of gazelles increased in the adjoining areas of the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts. The relic Tugai forests are of particular interest for development of scientific and ecological tourism in our one-of-a-kind nature reserve. The annual plan of our work includes four target programs: protection, research work, environmental education and territorial management.
The nature reserve's employees also consistently work to prevent the movement of sand by planting trees as part of the National Forestry Program of Turkmenistan. They prepare the seeds of unpretentious desert plants, choosing the highest and branchy bushes and trees. They plant up to 35 thousand green trees every year. The planting stock of coniferous trees is produced in the yard of the nature reserve's administrative building and the adjoining plots of land in the southern outskirts of the city of Seydi. One can see even from the distance that every square meter of land for pines, thuja and Juniperus is used wisely. Across the road, Asiatic poplar was planted and took root in three rows.
As mentioned above, the two-year international project titled "The Ecosystem Approach to the Management of Land and Woodland Resources in the Amu Darya River Region for Improvement of Life of the Local Community as Adaptation to Climate Change" was completed in the region in December 2017. The project was implemented in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the National Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna, the State Committee for Environmental Protection and Land Resources of Turkmenistan and the German Michael Zukkov Foundation.
As Turkmen scientist and project manager Sona Karryeva writes, following the research work, a regional map of the actual distribution and condition of Tugai forests was compiled, and physical and geographical characteristics of the terrain were identified. Training on forestry, combating salinization of lands, water-saving technologies in irrigation of arable land was conducted for local officials and specialists. Ecological awareness of various groups of population was raised, and a special brochure was published and distributed.
Saplings of saxaul, kandym, sandy acacia were also planted on 20 hectares of land on the left bank of the river in the Karakum desert. They will help to hold the sands and enrich pastures for livestock. Later, there were planted more seedlings to replace those that did not take root. At the same time, shepherds were explained that they should not bring the flocks to this place until the plants grow up. Combined together, one can speak of accumulation of valuable experience of interaction between the environmental sector and agricultural production.
A similar project was implemented in the Khorezm Nizhne-Amudarya Biosphere Nature Reserve in neighboring Uzbekistan. As representative of the German Michael Zukkov Foundation Jens Wunderlich noted at the final conference in Ashgabat at the end of 2017, "environmental activities, environmental education, scientific exchange on natural disciplines are conducted in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where the local population is being involved in generating alternative profits and providing incentives for people to protect environment and the living world of nature for themselves and future generations. Regional cooperation is intended to complement the efforts of countries in the process of preserving Tugai forests, and we were happy to support it."
It should be noted that four years ago the research officers of the Amu Darya State Nature Reserve published a book titled "Tugai - the National Wealth", and one cannot put it more accurately. On the banks of the great Central Asian river and other places, we have something to protect, multiply and preserve for descendants.