ASTANA – The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) will allocate 10 million euros ($12 million) per year to support the reintroduction of tigers to Kazakhstan, that nation’s deputy agriculture minister said Friday.
“Next year we intend to earmark 117 million tenge ($346,000) for this in the budget. WWF will actively participate in the financing, allocating 10 million euros annually for the implementation of this project,” Askar Myrzahmetov said.
Kazakhstan and WWF on Friday signed a memorandum for the implementation of a joint tiger reintroduction program in the Kazakh region of Balkhash.
“We are honored to be the first Central Asian country to implement such an important project that will not only bring the wild tigers back to their ancestral home but also protect the Balkhash region’s unique ecosystem,” Myrzakhmetov stated.
“It’s an important contribution to ensuring a future for tigers in the wild and also a critical step in protecting the Ili-Balkhash region,” WWF Director-General Marco Lambertini added.
To prepare for the return of the wild tigers, starting in 2018 the Kazakh government will establish a new nature reserve in Balkhash to restore the unique riverine habitat near the lake that gives the region its name.
This will include the protection of existing wildlife and the reintroduction of important species to provide food for tigers, such as the Asiatic wild ass and the Bactrian deer, which are native to Central Asia but are currently extinct in Kazakhstan due to poaching and habitat loss.
The return of the tigers will also help protect Lake Balkhash – one of the largest lakes in Asia and a major source of water in the Ili River basin – and enable it to avoid the fate of the Aral Sea, which was formerly the world’s fourth largest lake but is currently just 10 percent of its original size.