Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09BISHKEK1061
2009-09-18 10:55:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Bishkek
Cable title:  

LOSING PARADISE: KYRGYZ BIOSPHERE RESERVE

Tags:  PGOV PREL SENV KG 
pdf how-to read a cable
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RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BISHKEK 001061 

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/CEN (GORKOWSKI)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SENV KG
SUBJECT: LOSING PARADISE: KYRGYZ BIOSPHERE RESERVE

BISHKEK 00001061 001.2 OF 002


UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BISHKEK 001061

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/CEN (GORKOWSKI)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SENV KG
SUBJECT: LOSING PARADISE: KYRGYZ BIOSPHERE RESERVE

BISHKEK 00001061 001.2 OF 002



1. (U) SUMMARY: The Ambassador visited Sary Chelek
Biosphere Reserve in Jalalabad Oblast, once home to a number
of species found only in the Central Asian mountains.
Hunting, fishing, and grazing are officially prohibited, but
years of official indifference have resulted in a biosphere
reserve almost devoid of wildlife, but with abundant cattle.
Locals have taken over the non-mountainous areas for grazing
livestock. According to their supervisor, the Reserve's
guards are infrequently paid, and will accept a bottle of
vodka to overlook nearly any infraction. According to the
local governor, Wahabism is spreading fast in Kyrgyzstan's
South. END SUMMARY.


2. (U) In the company of the Korean and Pakistani
Ambassadors, the Ambassador visited Sary Chelek Biosphere
Reserve in Jalalabad Oblast. Designated a Biosphere Reserve
in 1978, the Reserve once was home to a number of species
found only in the Central Asian mountains. Now,
unfortunately, although the emerald lake and snowy mountains
provide a beautiful vista, the predominant features up close
are smashed vodka bottles and cow patties: The only species
that appear to be at home here are cattle and humans. The
rules say the Reserve should be left in its natural state,
with fallen trees left to rot. In practice, however,
"natural state" is interpreted to mean "with lots of
livestock grazing on it."

Voices From the Biosphere
--------------


3. (U) The Reserve has a staff of about 40, who both guard
the park and offer to show tourists around. The first guard
the Ambassador encountered, named Cosmos, had a Panglossian
view of the park. Questioned about the herds of cattle
thronging the park, Cosmos said that they were just passing
through the Reserve on their way home from summer pastures,
and would be gone in a few weeks. The vodka bottles
similarly would disappear--Cosmos had just organized a group
of environmentally-minded young people from Bishkek who were
coming to clean up the park. The Reserve's director shared
Cosmos' sunny attitude--the Reserve was thriving, in his
estimation.


4. (SBU) Later in her explorations, the Ambassador met the
Reserve's senior guard, Jakshykbek (protect),who had been
working at the Reserve since Soviet times. He painted a very

different picture than his colleagues: Since independence,
everything has gone downhill. The Reserve doesn't have any
money, and the guards often do not get paid. Almost all the
fish in the lakes are gone, and the boar population, and
almost everything else, has been hunted to near-extinction.
There are still a few snow leopards, but they survive only
because it's too much trouble for hunters to get up to where
they live.


5. (SBU) Cattle, however, are always abundant in the
Reserve, Jakshykbek said. Since Kyrgyzstan's independence the
restrictions imposed by the land's status as a biosphere
reserve have lost all meaning. Local villagers treat the
area as just another pasture.


6. (SBU) With surprising forthrightness, Jakshykbek painted
his guards as rent-seekers rather than agents of
conservation. When his guards come upon someone fishing,
hunting, or doing anything else that disturbs the ecological
integrity of the Reserve, they are supposed to take action.
Instead, they normally take a bottle of vodka, and just walk
away. Since they have a penchant for drinking the vodka
immediately, Jakshykbek ruefully admitted that many of the
smashed vodka bottles lining the lake shore were probably the
responsibility of his guards, and not rampaging German hikers.


7. (U) The Ambassador spent the night at the only hotel
facility near the park, a guest house constructed by an

BISHKEK 00001061 002.2 OF 002


international NGO in 2004, presumably with the general aim of
increasing the local population's financial stake in
maintaining Sary Chelek in its natural state. Five years
later, the NGO has left Kyrgyzstan, and through some
mechanism that no one could quite explain, the guest house is
now reserved for use by government officials only. The local
Akim (Regional governor) made an exception for the visiting
Ambassadors.

Unlimited Horses, but No Dogs
--------------


8. (SBU) The next day, the Ambassador met the local Akim,
Talantbek Orozov, in Kerben, the capital of Aksy Region.
Mentioning some of the problems she had seen at Sary Chelek,
the Ambassador suggested that more hotels might be a way to
generate revenue for both the locals and the Biosphere
Reserve. Orozov acknowledged the Reserve's problems, but
said that there was nothing he could do. The Reserve is
controlled by the Agency for Forestry and Tourism, and they
pay the salaries of the guards and select the Reserve's
director, and they need to build the hotels.


9. (SBU) Orozov admitted that local families tended to
treat the Reserve as a private pasture. He disclosed the
policy he had developed to prevent overgrazing in the
Reserve, clearly viewing it as Solomonic in its wisdom: Each
family can graze no more than one cow and five sheep, but an
unlimited number of horses, and, inscrutably, no dogs are
allowed.


10. (SBU) Changing topics, the Akim said that Aksy was
considered one of the most difficult regions in the country
to govern. In 2002, Aksy was the site of a violent uprising
inspired by the arrest of government opposition figure
Azimbek Beknazarov, and the government continues to keep a
wary eye on the region. Orozov said that Wahabists are
rapidly spreading throughout Southern Kyrgyzstan, enabled by
the construction of Saudi-funded mosques (now terminated in
his Region),but as yet they did not pose a threat in Aksy.


11. (SBU) The Uzbek Government, however, is causing real
problems, according to Orozov. Much of the border has not
been officially delimited, and the Uzbek Government has
recently begun digging a trench to establish their view of
the border. Orozov said the trench has cut some 26 families
off from the country in which they thought they lived.
Orozov was careful to note that he had no problems with the
five percent of Aksy's population who are ethnic Uzbeks.
They are respected and well-treated, and classes are even
taught in Uzbek for them in local schools.

Comment
--------------


12. (SBU) The Soviets left behind a mixed legacy in Aksy.
They recognized that Sary Chelek was worthy of protection,
and while the Soviet Union lasted, that protection was worth
something. But they also left behind a governance system
that looks to the top, and not to the people, for marching
orders, resulting in absurdities like local officials
permanently reserving the only hotel in a tourist town for
their visiting bosses.
GFOELLER