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The gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) is another charismatic and popular species. It has occupied a unique place in the literature, folklore and art of the Azerbaijani people since ancient times. Less than a century ago, herds of gazelles happily grazed in the lowlands and foothills of the southern Caucasus. According to scientists, fossils of gazelles in the Caucasus date back two million years (Hajiyev, 1977). The gazelle was one of the main preys of Stone Age man, which is clearly implied by the many petroglyphs found in ancient dwelling places.

From a historical perspective, the reality is simply unbelievable: the stock of gazelles in the eastern Caucasus during the first half of the last century declined from tens of thousands to 200 specimens in the 1960s (Safarov, 1961). A major cause of this dramatic decline of the gazelle populations was hunting and poaching, but almost as much harm was done by the intensive exploitation of the surrounding valleys. This all led to the almost total extinction of this charismatic animal in the Caucasus.

Measures were stepped up to conserve the gazelle and they did indeed stop the  decline in the population. The establishment of the Bandovan, Absheron, and Korchay sanctuaries and Shirvan reserve followed. By 1972 the gazelle population had increased to 1,500 and 10 years later  was around 3,500 (Alekperov, Kuliyev, 1981).

In 2003 an area of some 54,000h was declared the Shirvan National Park with the main aim of gazelle conservation. The park now has some 6,000 animals. A second isolated gazelle population is distributed in the Bozdag range in the south of the Mingachevir  basin. Whilst the latter population is quite small, the Shirvan stock is the largest in the whole range. It suffers from overpopulation and, consequently, possible future genetic problems, as the current population of 6,000 was started by only 77 animals.

During the last decade the area of protected territories in Azerbaijan has more than doubled to include the historical range of the gazelle, thus making the return of these beautiful animals a possibility.  At present, areas suitable for the re-introduction of the gazelle include five nature reserves (40,000h), three national parks (73,000h), and four sanctuaries (51,000h). The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan in collaboration with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, IDEA, and WWF initiated a  project to re-introduce the gazelle to its historical range. In the initial stage a group of experts led by Dr David Mallon, chairman of the IUCN SSC antelope group, evaluated the possibilities of translocation of the gazelle to potential distribution areas.

WWF provided methodological and technical support to the project. On 24th December 2010, the project was officially launched with the participation of the country’s president, Mr Ilham Aliyev.

At present, about 150 gazelles have been re-introduced in five areas – Absheron and Ag Gol national parks, the Gobustan plateau, Ajinour and Sarija steppes, and Bozdag ridge. The most favorable area seems to be Ajinour which additionally opens up interesting opportunities for trans-boundary cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Ten animals were also re-introduced in Vashlovani NP, Georgia, in November 2013

We sincerely hope that in this ever changing world our gazelles will find their home habitats restored just a century after they were so cruelly destroyed by man. Can we promise our children the spectacular sight of gazelles peacefully grazing on the steppe?

Gazelles in Azerbaijan

Funding Organization (s)/Donor(s): BMZ

Geographical Scope: Shirvan NP, Ajinohur, Sarija step, Bozdag mountains, Samukh area

Project Duration: 2012 - 2015