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King's flower may bloom again.
By Howard Smith ©2002 - Reprinted from New Zealand Deer Farming Annual 2002

IN ANCIENT times the people of Central Asia revered the Bukhara deer (Cervus elaphus bactrianus). The species was known as Hangul (the King's flower). It was protected by feudal kings, and Asian populations treated the deer Indians of today behave toward the sacred cow.

Now just 350-450 of these animals remain. A few are scattered about in small pockets, while 200 are kept in a government reserve at Karatchangil, 80 km from Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Now, moves are afoot to save the Bukhara from extinction. In May (2002), environment ministers from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan met in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) to sign an accord aimed at reversing the decline in deer numbers.

The document, a 'Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Conservation and Restoration of the Bukhara Deer', acknowledged that these countries shared responsibility to conserve and restore the species and its habitats.

Today's risks are caused by artificial regulation of watersupplies, destruction of habitats, and illegal hunting and poaching.

In former times the species was distributed throughout all river valleys and basins within Amudaria and Syrdaria. But today, many of these areas have no deer at all.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the people of central Asia faced great economic hardship. Many began poaching to survive.

In one strictly protected area - Tigrovaja Balka Zapovednik - between 1990 and 2000 Bukhara numbers plummeted from 400 to just eight animals. The pattern was repeated in habitats throughout all three countries.

The ministers recognised that concerted, co-ordinated action had to begin without delay if the species was to survive.

Chairman of the May meeting and Minister of Nature Protection in Tajikistan, Mr Usmokul Shokirov, believes the maintenance of the wild Bukhara population is more than just nature conservation.

"The deer are part of the identity of the Amudaria and Syrdaria river basins, incorporating tradition, history and the symbiosis of man with nature," he says.

Meanwhile, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Migratory species, Mr Arnulf Muller-Helmbrecht, noted that Bukhara deer migrate across the boundaries of Central Asian Range States.

He says they can only be effectively conserved through concerted action by the respective states.

The Tajikistan accord was developed under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme's convention on migratory species, in collaboration with the Central Asian programme of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

Uzbekistan is to add its signature to the agreement following the approval of its cabinet ministers.

Almaty Academy of Sciences principal investigator (zoology) is optimistic that progress is being made.

"With the consensus on saving the Bukhara, perhaps we'll turn the tide for this species," he says.