Fragile mountain ecosystems on the mend around the world

Mountains are the focus of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to revive devastated landscapes. With momentum building, the UN has now selected 10 World Restoration Flagships, including three highlighting mountain regions, to inspire further action. World Restoration Flagships are eligible to receive funding, advice or promotion from the United Nations.

Africa’s Veringa Massif, Serbia’s Alta Planina, and Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan are peaks on different continents. But they share many common challenges, from human-wildlife conflicts to the risk of disasters like floods and landslides.

“Mountains are fragile ecosystems where even small changes in climate or tree cover can have devastating effects,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Rehabilitation work in Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Uganda and Rwanda should “inspire countries to work together to protect these terrible places.”

Here’s a closer look at the three mountain regions recognized as part of the flagship initiative.

Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A gorilla in the jungle
Credit: UNEP/Florian Fussstetter

Limited to two sparse forests in central Africa, there are only 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Yet this figure represents a steady increase since the 1980s and is a reward for sustainable conservation and restoration work that is also generating welcome ecotourism income for protected area authorities and communities. .

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Half of the gorillas live in the volcano-dotted Virenga Massif, a trilateral protected area that straddles the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Threats, including insecurity, climate change and disease, mean the great apes are endangered.

As well as protecting core gorilla habitat, restoration work in the region includes the restoration of more than 1,000 hectares in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Exotic trees have been removed to allow native species to return, and there are plans to restore more habitat in the mountain gorilla range.

“Keeping these forests healthy makes them more resilient to climate change so that they can continue to supply gorillas and other species, as well as water and water for people living below the mountain,” said UNEP expert Johannes Refisch. It can also provide other benefits”. Coordinator of the Mountain Gorilla and Great Ape Survival Partnership.


A snow leopard peeks into the camera.
Credit: Philip Metheny and Michael Booth

Snow leopards span an estimated 2.8 million square kilometers of Central Asia. But there are only a few thousand cats left and they are notorious. Community wildlife rangers in southern Kyrgyzstan are among the few to keep an eye on them.

Camera traps by rangers in the 14,000-hectare Bebusan Reserve in the snow-capped Tianshan Range have confirmed the presence of four adult leopards and the birth of several cubs since 2019.

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Biboson and another new 23,000 ha reserve further east are part of community-based projects to encourage local pastoralists to adopt rotational grazing schemes to restore around 180,000 ha of grasslands and reduce grazing pressure in high mountain valleys. , where cattle compete with ibex and mountain goats for rare grass. , hunting snow leopards.

“We are taking part in this project to preserve our lands, our mountains, the nature that our ancestors left us,” said Vanira Talkanawa, a local shepherd. “We have learned how to use our land resources properly, improve the soil and our grazing practices.”


A green mountain valley
Credit: UNEP/Florian Fussstetter

Large predators are making a comeback in Europe. Wolves, lynx and jackals are returning to nature or being reintroduced in more and more areas. Brown bears in Serbia are moving from forests in neighboring Bulgaria to the Stara Planina protected area.

Restoration at Stara Planina, whose limestone banks are dotted with springs and waterfalls, includes increasing tree cover and revitalizing high mountain pastures through mulching. There are plans to upgrade Stara Planina and Kučaj-Beljanica to National Park status in the Serbian part of the Carpathian Mountains.

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These efforts are part of a long-term push in Europe’s Carpathian region to make mountain areas more resilient by using their resources sustainably and protecting biodiversity hotspots, with a strong emphasis on cross-border cooperation.

Global cooperation is also increasing. For example, representatives from the Virunga region and Kyrgyz counterparts have exchanged experiences in dealing with human-wildlife conflicts.

Beksultan Ibrahimov, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Technical Supervision of the Kyrgyz Republic, said: “The time has come to make a common decision to recognize the mountain ecosystem, which contains all available water, mineral and biological resources. And of course to the ambassadors.Snow leopards among the high mountain snow peaks – are extremely sensitive to climate change as well as of great importance to the present and future of humanity.

About the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

The United Nations General Assembly has announced from 2021 to 2030. United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In collaboration with partners led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it is designed to prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems around the world. It aims to revitalize billions of hectares of land, including terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade mobilizes political support, scientific research, and financial muscle for massive recovery.


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