Special for the Armenian Weekly
The Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) was founded in 2002 with the goal of raising local and international awareness of Armenia’s rich natural heritage. With their main funding partner, VivaCell-MTS, FPWC is involved in a myriad of projects, from its SunChild environmental education program, to managing the Yerevan Zoo, to maintaining the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. Just getting off the ground is FPWC’s Eco Training Center in Urtsadzor.
Opened just over a year ago and funded by the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program, the Eco Training Center sits on the outskirts of Urtsadzor village along the foothills of the mountains of FPWC’s Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. Supported by the UK-based World Land Trust, Netherlands-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, and VivaCell-MTS, the 2000-hectare (roughly 5,000 acres) refuge is the first privately managed nature reserve in the South Caucasus.
Ruben Khachatryan, the director and founder of FPWC, says of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, “It’s not only about nature conservation. It’s about new opportunities for the community.” Thus, the Eco Training Center is an integral aspect of the wildlife refuge.
The role of the Eco Training Center is multifaceted. As the name implies, it provides educational opportunities for the local community to learn about different ways they can contribute to conservation, through avenues such as sustainable natural resource harvesting or working as a nature guide. The community also has the chance to learn about renewable energy and other energy saving technology through the center’s solar thermal heating system and energy efficient lighting.
In addition to the training center’s main hall where trainings take place, there are four bedrooms and a loft for sleeping. Currently, FPWC runs hiking, horseback riding, and jeep tours through the wildlife refuge, allowing tourists to stay at the training center or at a local bed and breakfast in Urtsadzor. In this way, the center helps improve ecotourism prospects and associated employment opportunities in the community.
Lastly, FPWC’s Eco Training Center acts as a base camp for scientists and researchers in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. FPWC hopes that having this facility within the conservation area will increase the number of scientists interested in studying Armenia’s diverse flora and fauna, which is an important aspect of conservation.
Most recently, FPWC’s Eco Training Center received international accolades from the UNDP. The training center was chosen as one of 111 finalists for the 2014 Equator Prize from 1,234 projects from 121 countries. The prize recognizes “local sustainable development solutions for people, nature, and resilient communities.”
FPWC hopes that the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, Eco Training Center, and ecotourism development projects in Urtsadzor will offer a successful conservation model to other areas of the South Caucasus. Last year, remote cameras in the refuge confirmed that the Caucasian Leopard, a globally endangered species, is living in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. And in Urtsadzor, improvements to two homes have been completed, and homeowners are ready to open their doors to bed and breakfast guests. Take note, because Urtsadzor might be the perfect destination for your next vacation in Armenia.