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Calling the deer, but not to hunt it this time
Calling the deer, but not to hunt it this time

 

Sheyda Ashayeri, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Turkmen Ecolodge
The participatory approach in wildlife conservation and national park management has been practiced for the last three decades in some countries.  The main reason for the rising prominence of this approach was the poor performance of traditional conservation methods in sustainably protecting natural reserves and rare and endangered species. Traditional methods of wildlife conservation viewed local communities living in and around national parks as threats to the ecological balance of the parks, despite the fact that these communities often have close ties to the parks and are directly exposed to any benefits or damages that may incur from conservation measures. These communities are also best positioned to have valuable practical knowledge about all kinds of issues pertaining to the national parks. Hence, the sustainability of conservation programs implemented by experts and managers cannot be guaranteed without considering different dimensions of the mutual impact of local communities and parks. In the transition from old-style conservation methods to the new participatory approach, ecotourism can serve as a good start for involving local communities in conservation and furthering the sustainability of any program. By providing a relatively sustainable alternative income for local communities, ecotourism can expose and familiarize them with the economic, cultural, recreational, educational and aesthetical values of the national parks. At the same time, ecotourism can benefit from local knowledge and practices.
The rut season is a particularly dangerous period for the red deer in the Golestan National Park. Due to the covered nature of the habitat, it is very hard to observe this animal. To get the stags out of cover and make an easier kill, the poachers use a locally crafted deer call that is called ‘gowkal’ in the local dialect. Game wardens on their part camp out in different parts of the park and try to control poaching more effectively. Last year, the park’s manager and the Department of Environment of Golestan Province adopted a participatory approach and solicited help from local hunters during rut season. This year, in the course of implementing the second phase of its Persian leopard project in Golestan National Park, the PWHF collaborated with the Turkmen Ecolodge in an initiative that sought to use ecotourism as a tool for the education of interested visitors, while turning ex-poachers into tour guides during the perilous rut season. Turkmen Ecolodge is a local ecotourism facility that conducts responsible ecotourism, while raising environmental awareness and empowering local communities. It actively participates in conservation efforts in the Golestan National Park.
In September and October 2012, a special package was introduced by the Ecolodge which enabled nature lovers to camp in designated sites in the Park and take guided trekking tours in the woods to see the red deer. Each group was accompanied by a local hunter (ex-poacher) who skillfully used his hand-made deer call to attract the stags. The animals that were summoned this time only faced the clicks of cameras rather than clicks of rifle triggers. This program enjoyed the full support of the Department of Environment of Golestan Province. Former intruders into the Park took on an entirely different role during this year’s rut and served as ecotourism guides. The alternative income gained from ecotourism and the fact that they are viewed as partners rather than adversaries have turned poachers into guardians of wildlife, at least for the time being.
By practicing the participatory approach, this program has demonstrated the immense potential that exists in a style of conservation management that values local participation and takes an inclusive approach to local communities.  It is only through such participatory means that long-term conservation of the national parks can be guaranteed.

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks are due to Mr. Ramezan-Ali Rostaqi, Director of the GNP, whose help and genuine support was essential in this project. We also thank Mr. Mamashli and Mr. Mohajer Avarsaji, General Director and Natural Environment Deputy of the Department of Environment of the Golestan Province.