At the invitation of UNDP and the Committee of Natural Resources of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Michiel Hötte of WCS and Igor Kolodin of ANO WCS conducted SMART training workshops in Uzbekistan from 13 to 23 October for inspectors of the Gissar and Chatkal reserves and two operational “Leopard” teams that patrol mainly outside reserves.
This SMART project is part of a UNDP program aimed at improving protection of snow leopards and their mountain habitat. Similar UNDP programs are financed by the World Bank in several other snow leopard countries in Central Asia. The 6 million USD program in Uzbekistan sets up snow leopard population monitoring (mainly with camera-traps), develops a plan for expanding the protected area network, makes a wide variety of biological monitoring data available on internet, and aims improving the protection of the two Uzbek reserves with snow leopards by introducing SMART.
SMART is a method for monitoring patrol efforts and results and using the monitoring data to improve protection management step-by-step. Igor and Michiel were invited based on their 10 year experience in the Russian Far East where they have already assisted eight federal Russian protected areas and one wildlife management department with introducing SMART. These efforts have resulted in substantial improvements of protection quality at most Russian SMART sites.
For the trainings in Uzbekistan, Igor and Michiel applied the same approach that proved effective in Russia. They started with a presentation to introduce SMART, explain what SMART is, that it was developed by a partnership of large international conservation organisations (including WCS and WWF) and that it is applied worldwide at more than 700 sites in 60 countries to protect a wide variety of animals threatened by poaching, such as rhinos, tigers, sharks, pangolins, elephants and snow leopards. Next they taught inspectors how to collect data during patrols with smartphones using a data-model that they designed especially for the Uzbek nature reserves.
In order to practice data collection, they set out a route outdoors, with picture stuck to trees. These pictures depict various situations that inspectors can encounter and should document during patrols, such as trespassing tourists, illegal fishing, a poacher who killed an ibex or a snow leopard that is spotted during a patrol.
The “patrol” data collected outdoors are uploaded to a SMART computer database and shown to the inspectors in the form of patrol maps with various observations.
The inspector training at each reserve took one day and the next day they taught reserve staff to operate the SMART computer program (e.g. how to import data from a smartphone into the computer database, how to process data into maps and tables, how to make database backups, etc.). In total 45 inspectors were trained in data collection and 6 staff members in SMART data management.
The trainings went very well with all participants showing a keen interest and trying hard to understand everything. After the training a 1-month test period started in order to try-out all the new SMART procedures. Igor and Michiel had a very good time in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek UNDP and reserve staff is extremely friendly and hospitable, and the original Uzbek plov (rice, meat and vegetables) was really delicious!