In 19th century Armenia, the Caucasian Red Deer (Cervus elaphus maral) wandered freely through the forests of this mountainous nation, however the population was over-hunted in the 20th century, ultimately becoming locally extinct in the 1950s. Although some small groups from neighbouring countries managed to re-establish themselves in Armenia, according to WWF Armenia, these groups were subsequently killed off by poaching in the early 1990s, and the species is now included in the Red Book of Armenia (2010) as critically endangered (CR).
This was the situation in 2013 when Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection and WWF Armenia began a project to reintroduce the Caucasian Red Deer to Armenia, and more precisely to Dilijan National Park. The first step was to construct a breeding center on 10 hectares of forested land not far from Parz Lake, one of Dilijan National Park’s main tourist attractions. The complex includes two large enclosures with electric fencing, one of which is designed to isolate young deer from excessive human contact before release. The facility also includes a supplementary feeding station for older deer and shelters for relevant staff (rangers, veterinarians, etc.).
Once completed, in April of this year the first group of three deer – two female, one male – was “imported” to Armenia from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and transported to their new home: the breeding center in Dilijan National Park. Parts of that exciting day can be seen here.
And already, in June, the first male red deer of the 21st century was born on Armenian soil, one of hopefully many, many more.
Future plans include identifying appropriate species from other neighboring countries in order to ensure 9-10 fawns will be born at the center each year. When the herds are stable and the animals strong enough, those younger groups (who have had no/limited contact with humans) will be released from the enclosure to roam freely in the wilderness of Dilijan National Park, and ultimately beyond its borders, hopefully long into the 22nd century and beyond.
The Caucasus Nature Fund supported the red deer re-introduction project with grants to WWF-Armenia of €100,000 over the 3 year period of 2015-2018, along with other partners such as the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW, WWF Germany, the Transboundary Joint Secretariat (TJS) and HSBC Bank Armenia.