Mentioned as one of the “12 best places you’ve never heard of” by BudgetTravel in 2011, Tusheti, a historical province hidden deep in the Caucasus Mountains in the north of Georgia has seen a rapid increase in visitors over the last years. While its picturesque landscapes and villages, centuries-old defence towers as well as cuisine and folklore are appreciated by all visitors, the rich biodiversity of Tusheti has been almost neglected.
NACRES, an IUCN Member, saw the vast potential of sustainable nature-based tourism as a means of increasing the perceived value of biodiversity among the local communities. Within the framework of the Global Environment Facility/United Nations Development Programme project “Catalyzing Financial Sustainability of Georgia’s Protected Areas System” the organization proposed and subsequently developed a new wildlife viewing opportunity focussing on the endangered Wild Goat (Capra aegagrus). Throughout Georgia this species only remains in Tusheti and is threatened by illegal shooting.
The main goal of the initiative was to promote “wildlife watching” as opposed to “wildlife shooting”.
NACRES evaluated Tusheti’s wildlife viewing potential primarily looking at such aspects as risks and benefits to conservation and the cost of setting up and operation of wildlife viewing trails.
Many months of detailed planning and joint work with the Tusheti National Park and local partners “Tusheti Guide” and “Friends of Tusheti Protected Areas” were dedicated to strengthening site protection, setting up a wild goat monitoring scheme, and to delivering training to local guides and park rangers and to the local groups as future operators of the service.
Out of the huge number of applicants, 22 participants were selected for the first wild goat viewing trip to Tusheti. In addition to viewing wild goats, participants had the opportunity to experience the beauty of Tusheti landscapes and to know the local culture. Visitors with no or little experience in wildlife watching became absolutely delighted by observing wild goats as these magnificent animals effortlessly moved and fed on the impossible terrain of rocky forest openings.
Building on this pilot initiative, in the summer more visitors enjoyed wild goat viewing in Tusheti as the Tusheti National Park and its local partners promoted and expanded the project. NACRES will continue to provide further support to ensure the sustainability of this pioneering initiative.
Article by Irakli Shavgulidze, NACRES, Centre for Biodiversity Conservation & Research