51 Globally Threatened Species Get New Lease on Life in the Caucasus

5/24/2004

$8.5 Million in Grants and Six-Country Council to Benefit Region

Tbilisi, Georgia - WWF, the conservation organization, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) today announced a CEPF investment strategy and a high-level advisory council of governmental and nongovernmental representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey to help conserve the rich natural resources of the region.

Support for the council is a strategic part of a new regional coordination approach, led by the WWF Caucasus Programme, to ensure success of CEPF's $8.5 million investment strategy. CEPF will award grants to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society groups working to safeguard high-priority areas for conservation in the region, which spans the area between the Black and Caspian seas.

"These new developments will pull together partners from across the region, enabling an inclusive approach for planning and action across political boundaries that can be obstacles to successful conservation," said Giorgi Sanadiradze, director of the WWF Caucasus Programme.

A regional approach involving multiple stakeholders is also vital to effectively address the broader social, economic and policy factors essential to results that benefit both nature and people.

The forests, high mountain ecosystems and arid landscapes of the Caucasus contain more than twice the animal diversity found in adjacent regions of Europe and Asia. However, biodiversity of the Caucasus is being lost at an alarming rate. Human activities have transformed nearly half of the lands. Fifty-one species are at risk, including the Critically Endangered Saiga antelope, Siberian crane and Baltic (Atlantic) sturgeon.

CEPF investments will focus on conserving these 51 globally threatened species, the majority of which are found in specific sites in five target areas: Greater Caucasus, Caspian, West Lesser Caucasus, East Lesser Caucasus and Hyrcan.

The announcement came as part of a series of events being held in Tbilisi this week, including a workshop May 25-26 for NGOs, government representatives and other stakeholders to learn more about the CEPF investment strategy and to help develop an action plan for its implementation. The first meeting of the Regional Council for Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use in the Caucasus Ecoregion will be May 26. A May 27 event will draw together all participants for an official launch.

The Caucasus "ecoregion" is globally outstanding for its biodiversity. It is also one of the world's 25 biologically richest yet most threatened areas. These areas known as "biodiversity hotspots" are the focus of CEPF, a joint initiative of Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.

"Our investment program for the Caucasus is designed to meet the challenges in a vast region of six unique countries," said Dan Martin, CEPF senior managing director. "By placing a regional conservation leader such as WWF Caucasus at its heart, our support to local groups will pioneer and equip new partnerships and approaches that are necessary to make lasting conservation happen."

The WWF Caucasus Programme coordinated an intensive process to develop the CEPF strategy, known as an ecosystem profile, for the Caucasus. Its approach ultimately drew participation from more than 130 experts representing scientific, governmental and nongovernmental groups from the six countries.

The Programme will act as the hub of CEPF strategy implementation in the region, ensuring integration of the WWF and CEPF approach, helping local groups develop grant proposals, disseminating information and assisting in monitoring of the CEPF portfolio.

With headquarters in Tbilisi and country offices in Armenia and Azerbaijan, WWF Caucasus will work together with WWF offices in Russia and Turkey and the Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment in Iran to ensure effective coordination region-wide. The approach also includes building a regional group of experts from the six countries to assist in reviewing grant proposals as needed and act as a technical advisory group, as well as assisting the new Regional Council in its overarching role.

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The WWF Caucasus Programme works to stop the degradation of the natural environment in the Caucasus and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund aims to dramatically advance conservation of the Earth's biologically richest and most threatened areas in developing countries. A fundamental goal is to ensure that civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.

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