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In the summer of 2010, SCI Foundation initiated a Marco Polo Sheep Project in Tajikistan. We partnered with the Tajikistan government to complete a wild sheep population survey in the Pamir Mountains and continue monitoring sheep over several years to understand population trends. The survey was made a high priority when Tajikistan canceled wild sheep hunting in 2008 and 2009 due to speculations that wild sheep populations were decreasing. However, our surveys between 2010 and 2012 revealed that populations were large, healthy, and stable. Tajikistan reinstated hunting almost immediately after the first field season.
Today, Tajikistan has the largest concentration of wild sheep in the world. In order to ensure these populations are managed properly, the Marco Polo Sheep Project is about to begin the second phase of the project, which will focus on vegetation sampling and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to assess food availability.
GIS not only can tell you where your vehicle or cell phone is, it can be used for land measurements and interpreting satellite imagery. Biologist and wildlife managers use GIS to create maps of wildlife habitats, watersheds, topography, and understand physical changes to the environment. For the sheep project, GIS maps will be used to help us learn what vegetation is growing in the Pamirs, what vegetation is important food for sheep, and how many sheep we think the vegetation can support. In addition, sheep often use different areas for grazing and birthing. GIS mapping will show which areas are being utilized and for what purposes, giving biologists insight on how to manage each area.
Continuously collecting information on population numbers and range condition will help Tajikistan ensure sustainability of their sheep. SCI Foundation’s study will also be useful as researchers examine questions of other species and impacts occurring in high altitude ecosystems and sheep in other regions. Phase two of this project is set to begin in July 2014.
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