The planet is experiencing unprecedented levels of land conversion and habitat loss, often in the most biologically rich ecosystems. Despite the well-known societal and economic benefits of infrastructure, indiscriminate development of roads, railways and canals increasingly threatens biodiversity. Endangered Asian elephants are regularly hit by trains; American bison are struck just outside Yellowstone National Park; and road construction opens the door to runaway deforestation, even deep in the Amazon Rainforest.
Turkmenistan’s “Mountain Ecosystems of Koytendag” (MEK) make up one of the most distinctive and richly biodiverse landscapes in Central Asia. However, the area faces mounting threats to its conservation, including agricultural expansion, overgrazing, illegal hunting, and unmanaged tourism. As part of our project ‘Connectivity, Capacity, and Cats: Building Resiliency in the Mountain Ecosystems of Koytendag,’ funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), national and international experts traveled around this extraordinary region from 5-11 April 2023. Among the goals was to help evaluate the possibility of it being officially designated as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
Located in southeast Turkmenistan, on the border with Uzbekistan and close to Afghanistan, the Mountain Ecosystems of Koytendag (MEK) are one of the most distinctive landscapes in Central Asia. The region extends from the hot, dry, semi-desert plains of the Amu Darya River Valley to the snow-capped peaks of Ayrybaba, rising to 3,137 meters (10,292 feet) as the highest mountain in Turkmenistan. Covering a combined area of over 100,000 hectares, the ecosystem hosts rare species such as Urial sheep, lynx, and markhor, and is important habitat for pistachio and juniper forests. Recently, experts from this area and around the country gathered to discuss how to conserve this extraordinary natural area, including how to ensure its habitat areas remain connected.
In December 2022, representatives from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation were present in Montreal, Canada when 188 countries made an historic commitment adopting the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). As a main outcome of Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties, the GBF is now the most significant agreement to date for bolstering global cooperation to conserve and restore nature. Since then, the Center has been engaging in discussions and planning across its networks of experts and institutions to best coordinate actions to support lasting conservation gains on the ground. With the importance of connectivity and landscape- and seascape-scale approaches emphasized in the GBF, it is clear that the Center has a significant role to play in its implementation.
Gibbons are arboreal primates critical for maintaining the balance of their forest ecosystem. As seed dispersers, they help to regulate forest regeneration by spreading seeds throughout their habitat, maintaining forest diversity, and supporting other plant and animal species. Gibbons are well adapted to their tree-dwelling lifestyle, moving quickly and gracefully through the forest by swinging from branch to branch using their arms. So, when a gap occurs in the forest canopy, they lose their primary—and safest—mode of transportation.
Center staff have now returned from their adventures in Montreal, attending the UN Biodiversity Conference. Ecological connectivity—the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth—was an exciting topic of negotiations and discussions during what is officially referred to as the 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In the final days of the conference, the governments of 196 countries adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework on 18 December 2022. This milestone agreement will now serve as the strategic plan for implementation of the Convention over the period 2022-2030. To date, this is the most significant agreement for bolstering global cooperation to conserve and restore nature.
WWF, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group today launched a new initiative to conserve nature’s connections: Wildlife Connect. The initiative aims to secure ecological connectivity, defined by the Convention on Migratory Species as the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth.” From great migrations of wildlife across landscapes and continents to river flows from mountain to sea, nature’s circulatory system of connections is essential for a healthy planet. Yet they are rapidly disappearing, destabilizing ecosystems and the essential benefits they provide for us all.
Imagine a young male jaguar in the tropical Central American forests looking for a mate. In theory, he could roam from Mexico to Argentina, ensuring that the genetic pool is mixed for a good continuation of the species. In practice, he would have to go through rivers and mountains, but also human-made obstacles such as roads, cities, agricultural fields and other open areas that hinder travel.
History was made this past summer at the first-ever Africa-wide gathering to discuss the role of protected areas in conserving nature. Hosted in the city of Kigali, Rwanda, the 1st IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) brought together 2,400 participants from across the continent and the world from July 18-23, 2022, under the theme “For People and Nature.” Staff from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation and partners were present in Kigali to highlight the contribution that connectivity conservation is already making, and can make in the future, toward bolstering conservation actions in Africa.
As an early-career conservationist, I have been immensely privileged to experience some genuinely fantastic wildlife encounters. I’ve assisted in the relocation of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, collared mountain lions, and almost crashed into a hippo while biking in east Africa. However, none of these compare to my remarkable experience while visiting Borneo, Malaysia, in May.