Conscious Caucasus – Europe’s Last Wilderness | VAUDE

People should value landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity. It’s not only related to threatened species, it’s related to everything. Everything what is around us. So without biodiversity we can not survive. Without biodiversity we as humans can not survive on this planet. Actually, children understand this quite well. But then, when they become older, they forget about it. The Caucasus is home to many endangered species. One of them is the Caucasian leopard. Today there are less than 40 of them left in the wild. Together with small mountain villages,
the WWF is promoting eco-tourism in an attempt to save Europe’s last wilderness. We’re always up for an adventure, so we packed our mountain bikes and traveled to Armenia,
a small country in the middle of the Caucasus. In Yerevan we met Emma. As a volunteer for the WWF, she knows her way around the national parks. Guided by local rangers, we wanted to discover Europe’s last true wilderness, and maybe find some trails for mountain biking along the way… „Wollen wir gleich dableiben, oder? –„Machen wir! Das ist ok“. Top
(Should we stay here? Yes. That’s ok.) After escaping the city we pitched our tent near the protected landscape of Ginishik and spent the night under the stars. The next morning we met Emma and Alik, a ranger of the WWF. He knows these mountains like the back of his hands. So we asked him to show us around. I’m standing in Ginshik, a protected landscape that is famous for its biodiversity and home to one of the biggest population of Bezoar goats in Armenia. The protected landscape here is also an important corridor for the Caucasian leopard, which relies on the healthy population of Bezoar goats in this area. Ginishik is located around the Noravank Monastery, one of Armenia’s best known tourist attractions. The protected area here is community-managed and toursim is a major source of income. At the same time, it is an important breeding ground for the Bezoar goats, so toursim has to be regulated. We want tourists to be able to enjoy nature without disturbing the wildlife. That’s why we are creating designated hiking trails troughout Ginishik. An important part of this work is to maintain the balance
between conservation and the needs of the local population. It is not possible to protect nature without the support of the people living in the protected areas. Exploring the protected landscape with Alec made us eager to learn more about conservation in the Caucasus. So we arranged a meeting with the director and project leader of the WWF. We recently started the project on establishment of new national park in this area. This area is very important for us because it is a hotspot for biodiversity. Here you can find globally national threatened species like Caucasian leopards, the Armenien mouflon, Bezoar goats, brown bears and many other species. Actually we have very few Caucasian leopard left in the country and recently we found 4/5 leopards in the southern part in this region. This is very important because before it we couldn’t find them. If Armenia or Caucasus is a part of Europe,
we can consider that this is the last biggest cat of Europe. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the Caucasus is just as rich in cultural heritage as it is in wildlife. We learned that Armenia is the oldest Christian nation in the world! Many ancient churches and monasteries have been reclaimed by nature and are now hidden in the dense forests, waiting to be discovered again… So we got curious and asked around. „Can you maybe ask him if he know a bike trail or a trail where we can ride with the bike?“ „Ich finde den mega schön“
(I really like them) Kozlov State Reserve is one of the oldest national parks in Armenia It was already established at Soviet times but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it got under immense pressure on biodiversity. Today we have a complete different situation. We can see it with our own eyes: Bears, voltures, Bezoar goats. All endangered species. Given the situation that we had in the early 90’s, it was a very important to really close this part of Armenia and put it under the highest level of protection. We can really consider it now as the jewel of protected areas in Armenia. Apart from the incredible landscapes and the stunning wildlife, one of Armenia’s biggest treasures is the hospitality of its people. Even in the most remote villages, people welcomed us with open arms. After traveling through the protected areas of Armenia, we had a much better understanding of what environmental protection truly means for the people of the Caucasus. It gives them the opportunity not only to protect nature, but also to cherish their culture. And it shows that social and environmental problems are two sides of the same story. We can’t wait to come back and to meet our new found friends again. Until then, let’s all do our part to keep Europe’s last wilderness… wild!

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