Camera –traps installed in the forests of Lagodekhi Protected Areas in the mountains of Eastern Georgia have caught images of an unexpected visitor, sparking cautious optimism for biodiversity in the region. The camera traps, installed by local biodiversity NGO NACRES, and funded by Protected Areas financing mechanism, the Caucasus Nature Fund (CNF), were intended to monitor the number of East Caucasian Tur in the area, but in late January, one of the traps caught images of a lone Bezoar Goat – an IUCN Red-List species hitherto unknown in Lagodekhi.
The origins of this lone animal, believed to be a six-year old male, have been the topic of speculation ever since the images emerged. “As far as we know, the Bezoar Goat has never been seen before in Lagodekhi Protected Areas” says park director Giorgi Sulamanidze. “The only other known population in Georgia is found in Tusheti Protected Areas, in the far north-east of the country, although we know there is a healthy population of Bezoar Goats just over the border in Dagestan, Russia.”
The Bezoar Goat, also known as the bezoar ibex, can be found across Asia Minor, the Caucasus and the Middle East, but in recent years populations have suffered from heavy hunting. The male goat has extremely long, curved horns (the longest of any species in relation to body weight) which are used to make traditional drinking horns.
The animal favours inaccessible, dry and rocky cliff-faces and biodiversity experts are surprised to see bezoars in Lagodekhi’s lush and humid sub-tropical forests. “We’re not sure if something has happened in Dagestan to encourage the animals to leave” says Irakli Shavgulidze, Director of NACRES. “It could be that the animals are simply extending their range, or that this is a lone, vagrant individual, in which case re-colonization in Lagodekhi is unlikely. In any case, it’s a very interesting finding and we should be monitoring it closely.”
Others are less-cautiously optimistic about this unexpected find. “The fact that a bezoar goat has appeared in a protected area and not elsewhere in the country shows that protection is working” says Sulamanidze. “Over the last few years, with the help of international donors such as CNF, the protected areas network has been able to radically improve its capacity for protection, especially from poaching. Camera traps have played an important role in this process, both in tracking populations in the protected areas, and providing evidence to use against poachers.”
“We’ve seen population increases with other species too, specifically inside the protected areas, which shows that the animals feel safe enough to establish themselves in these areas.”