Chachuna – What we have learnt about its biodiversity

ჭაჭუნა – რა გავიგეთ მის ბიომრავალფეროვნებაზეThe article was prepared and originally published by online outlet Netgazeti

Author: Nino Bidzinashvili 

Wild boar, Jackal and Jungle cat were the most frequently photographed animals among the tens of thousands of photos taken in the Chachuna Managed Reserve.

This means that these three animals are widely spread in Chachuna. This is one of the observations made by biodiversity researchers from SABUKO.

SABUKO – a nature conservation organization, which is a local partner in Georgia of BirdLife, the world’s largest nature conservation organization, has been studying the Chachuna Managed Reserve since 2019.

What is Chachuna Managed Reserve

Chachuna Managed Reserve is located in Dedoplistskaro Municipality, in the extreme southeastern part of Georgia, on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The area of the Reserve is 5032 ha and due to its distinctive ecosystem, it is part of the emerald network. In 1989 the Emerald Network was established by the signatory countries of the Berne Convention for the Protection of European Natural Habitats.

Chachuna Managed Reserve. Photo: SABUKO

Chachuna is home to about 60 bird species protected by the Bern Convention, including the Eastern imperial eagle. However, scarce information about species inhabiting Chachuna is one of the reasons why SABUKO started research here.

Biodiversity research by SABUKO

“Although some studies were conducted here years ago, as of today, this information, on the one hand, is not available and on the other hand, it is simply outdated and needs to be updated.” We started working from point zero,” states SABUKO, which started research in Chachuna in December 2019 and it is still ongoing.

“What animals live in the Iori River valley? Do animals use the ridges adjacent to the gallery forest to move to Azerbaijan? “Is the gallery forest really that important, and what are some of the” hot spots “within the animal habitat? These are questions that researchers of SABUKO need to answer.

Researchers apply several methods for exploring this area, including visual inspection, camera traps, and acoustic devices. Specialists have to respond to the main questions above by means of combination of these methods.

According to researchers, these methods comply with several principles: they are reliable, supported by various studies, it is possible to measure and perform the results, and most importantly, they do not interfere in the environment and do not disturb animals.

Camera traps: Zurab Gurgenidze is one of the specialists who studies Chachuna with this method. He is the Conservation Manager of SABUKO. He shares with ‘’Netgazeti’’ the method of research with camera traps.

A camera trap is simply a digital camera connected to an infrared sensor. When the animal passes in front of the sensor, it triggers the camera and takes a photo and video that is safely stored on the memory card.
It is possible to leave the camera traps in the field continuously for several weeks or even months. During this period the surrounding area is continuously controlled so that people do not harshly interfere with the environment and do not disturb the animals.

“Currently, about 50 camera traps are installed in Chachuna Managed Reserve. It completely covers the gallery forest and the ravines surrounding Chachuna. “Camera traps are installed almost all over the territory so that we can get a complete picture,” said Gurgenidze

The photos taken with camera traps shows that Wild boar, Jackal and Jungle cat are widely spread in Chachuna. These are the most photographed animals by most of the cameras and the number of their photos exceeds that of all other animals.

Camera traps of SABUKO first spotted a Lynx in Chachuna, which is critically endangered in Georgia, and according to SABUKO’s researchers, until now there were only speculations about the distribution of Lynx. There is a fairly solid population of Lynx in Vashlovani, near Chachuna, although it has never been detected in the Chachuna area.

According to Zurab Gurgenidze, in total, two individual Lynx were recorded in Chachuna. He said that eventually, studies should determine the exact route of their movement as well.

According to Gurgenidze, many animals and birds live in Chachuna at the moment, including Raccoons, Jackals, as well as red-listed Jungle cats, Wolves, Francolin, Eastern imperial eagles and others.

Acoustic Research: Another method of observing and studying biodiversity is called acoustic research. Gurgenidze explains that the acoustic survey device is very similar to a camera trap, but the difference is that it does not have a lens, but only a microphone.

“These devices are installed in the gallery forest, at different locations. There are currently 3 acoustic devices. The method of their use is as follows: one such device must be kept at one location for 4 days. After 4 days the location changes.

During this period, the device records ultrasounds – sounds that the human ear cannot perceive. These sounds are recorded, then the data is downloaded to a computer and uploaded to a specially created application – where the sounds are finally decoded. The range and intensity of a sound are measured and afterwards, species of the bat are identified,” said Zurab Gurgenidze.

By acoustic research SABUKO records the sounds of small, sparrow-like birds.

“However, purpose of this acoustic study, 90%, is to record the sounds of bats and find out how many species we have on the given spot.”

As Zura Gurgenidze explains, it is still difficult to talk about accurate statistics, because the research is not over yet. According to him, at least one more year is needed to thoroughly study the population of birds and animals in Chachuna.

The study of Eastern Imperial Eagle

While researching the biodiversity of Chachuna, one of the priorities for SABUKO is the study of the Eastern imperial eagle. The Eastern imperial eagle is considered a vulnerable species in the world, and in Georgia it is included in the red list. Across the country, they are found on the east side.

Zurab Gurgenidze tells us that he and his colleagues are the first in Georgia to install a GPS navigation system for the Eastern imperial eagle. GPS transmitters are either attached to the nestling before it learns to fly, or to already adult individuals who are attracted by bait.

We use GPS to monitor their migration route – where they fly, where they stop, where they stay for a long time, where – for short periods. Globally, they migrate to warmer countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Consequently, with this system of supervision, we see what problems they may face in this area. To date, unfortunately, 80 % out of the individuals with installed trackers, died due to power lines – to put it simply, when they sat on the poles, they were struck by electricity, “- explains Gurgenidze.

„We have 14 registered pairs, we recorded 24 adult individuals in Georgia last year. “7 pairs – or 14 individuals – are represented in the Chachuna Managed Reserve,” Gurgenidze explained.

Gurgenidze mentions that most of the nests have been abolished, and next season, when nesting begins, his team will find out in detail what was the reason, whether the nestlings died or disappeared.

“Now we are starting a new project through which we will be more thoroughly involved in this issue and launch a study in which we will take blood samples from birds to examine and see if there are any poisonous substances in their bodies and create a DNA base.

At the same time, we will install so-called live cameras on nests through which we can monitor them 24 hours a day and diagnose the problem. There are various assumptions as to why the nests could be abolished. In particular, it has been suggested that eggs could have been eaten by ravens or due to a lack of calcium in the egg, shell might have not withstand the weight of female eagle and  were broken.

This is an assumption and I am not sure so far. As I have mentioned, there are many assumptions. There is a big question mark, which we cannot answer yet, so we want to find out exactly what is happening, ” said Zura Gurgenidze.

To summarize, at the end of the Chachuna Biodiversity Survey, SABUKO hopes that detailed information on the species and their routes will play an important role in the development of the Chachuna Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

Chachuna Managed Reserve. Photo: SABUKO

The article was prepared as part of the project: ‘Restoring Gallery Forest and Grasslands in the Iori River Valley’’, supported by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and implemented within the framework of the Endangered Landscapes Programme, with the support of the Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin Charitable Foundation Arcadia and implemented by Society for Nature Conservation in collaboration with Birdlife International.

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Chachuna – What we have learnt about its biodiversity

ჭაჭუნა – რა გავიგეთ მის ბიომრავალფეროვნებაზეThe article was prepared and originally published by online outlet Netgazeti

Author: Nino Bidzinashvili 

Wild boar, Jackal and Jungle cat were the most frequently photographed animals among the tens of thousands of photos taken in the Chachuna Managed Reserve.

This means that these three animals are widely spread in Chachuna. This is one of the observations made by biodiversity researchers from SABUKO.

SABUKO – a nature conservation organization, which is a local partner in Georgia of BirdLife, the world’s largest nature conservation organization, has been studying the Chachuna Managed Reserve since 2019.

What is Chachuna Managed Reserve

Chachuna Managed Reserve is located in Dedoplistskaro Municipality, in the extreme southeastern part of Georgia, on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The area of the Reserve is 5032 ha and due to its distinctive ecosystem, it is part of the emerald network. In 1989 the Emerald Network was established by the signatory countries of the Berne Convention for the Protection of European Natural Habitats.

Chachuna Managed Reserve. Photo: SABUKO

Chachuna is home to about 60 bird species protected by the Bern Convention, including the Eastern imperial eagle. However, scarce information about species inhabiting Chachuna is one of the reasons why SABUKO started research here.

Biodiversity research by SABUKO

“Although some studies were conducted here years ago, as of today, this information, on the one hand, is not available and on the other hand, it is simply outdated and needs to be updated.” We started working from point zero,” states SABUKO, which started research in Chachuna in December 2019 and it is still ongoing.

“What animals live in the Iori River valley? Do animals use the ridges adjacent to the gallery forest to move to Azerbaijan? “Is the gallery forest really that important, and what are some of the” hot spots “within the animal habitat? These are questions that researchers of SABUKO need to answer.

Researchers apply several methods for exploring this area, including visual inspection, camera traps, and acoustic devices. Specialists have to respond to the main questions above by means of combination of these methods.

According to researchers, these methods comply with several principles: they are reliable, supported by various studies, it is possible to measure and perform the results, and most importantly, they do not interfere in the environment and do not disturb animals.

Camera traps: Zurab Gurgenidze is one of the specialists who studies Chachuna with this method. He is the Conservation Manager of SABUKO. He shares with ‘’Netgazeti’’ the method of research with camera traps.

A camera trap is simply a digital camera connected to an infrared sensor. When the animal passes in front of the sensor, it triggers the camera and takes a photo and video that is safely stored on the memory card.
It is possible to leave the camera traps in the field continuously for several weeks or even months. During this period the surrounding area is continuously controlled so that people do not harshly interfere with the environment and do not disturb the animals.

“Currently, about 50 camera traps are installed in Chachuna Managed Reserve. It completely covers the gallery forest and the ravines surrounding Chachuna. “Camera traps are installed almost all over the territory so that we can get a complete picture,” said Gurgenidze

The photos taken with camera traps shows that Wild boar, Jackal and Jungle cat are widely spread in Chachuna. These are the most photographed animals by most of the cameras and the number of their photos exceeds that of all other animals.

Camera traps of SABUKO first spotted a Lynx in Chachuna, which is critically endangered in Georgia, and according to SABUKO’s researchers, until now there were only speculations about the distribution of Lynx. There is a fairly solid population of Lynx in Vashlovani, near Chachuna, although it has never been detected in the Chachuna area.

According to Zurab Gurgenidze, in total, two individual Lynx were recorded in Chachuna. He said that eventually, studies should determine the exact route of their movement as well.

According to Gurgenidze, many animals and birds live in Chachuna at the moment, including Raccoons, Jackals, as well as red-listed Jungle cats, Wolves, Francolin, Eastern imperial eagles and others.

Acoustic Research: Another method of observing and studying biodiversity is called acoustic research. Gurgenidze explains that the acoustic survey device is very similar to a camera trap, but the difference is that it does not have a lens, but only a microphone.

“These devices are installed in the gallery forest, at different locations. There are currently 3 acoustic devices. The method of their use is as follows: one such device must be kept at one location for 4 days. After 4 days the location changes.

During this period, the device records ultrasounds – sounds that the human ear cannot perceive. These sounds are recorded, then the data is downloaded to a computer and uploaded to a specially created application – where the sounds are finally decoded. The range and intensity of a sound are measured and afterwards, species of the bat are identified,” said Zurab Gurgenidze.

By acoustic research SABUKO records the sounds of small, sparrow-like birds.

“However, purpose of this acoustic study, 90%, is to record the sounds of bats and find out how many species we have on the given spot.”

As Zura Gurgenidze explains, it is still difficult to talk about accurate statistics, because the research is not over yet. According to him, at least one more year is needed to thoroughly study the population of birds and animals in Chachuna.

The study of Eastern Imperial Eagle

While researching the biodiversity of Chachuna, one of the priorities for SABUKO is the study of the Eastern imperial eagle. The Eastern imperial eagle is considered a vulnerable species in the world, and in Georgia it is included in the red list. Across the country, they are found on the east side.

Zurab Gurgenidze tells us that he and his colleagues are the first in Georgia to install a GPS navigation system for the Eastern imperial eagle. GPS transmitters are either attached to the nestling before it learns to fly, or to already adult individuals who are attracted by bait.

We use GPS to monitor their migration route – where they fly, where they stop, where they stay for a long time, where – for short periods. Globally, they migrate to warmer countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Consequently, with this system of supervision, we see what problems they may face in this area. To date, unfortunately, 80 % out of the individuals with installed trackers, died due to power lines – to put it simply, when they sat on the poles, they were struck by electricity, “- explains Gurgenidze.

„We have 14 registered pairs, we recorded 24 adult individuals in Georgia last year. “7 pairs – or 14 individuals – are represented in the Chachuna Managed Reserve,” Gurgenidze explained.

Gurgenidze mentions that most of the nests have been abolished, and next season, when nesting begins, his team will find out in detail what was the reason, whether the nestlings died or disappeared.

“Now we are starting a new project through which we will be more thoroughly involved in this issue and launch a study in which we will take blood samples from birds to examine and see if there are any poisonous substances in their bodies and create a DNA base.

At the same time, we will install so-called live cameras on nests through which we can monitor them 24 hours a day and diagnose the problem. There are various assumptions as to why the nests could be abolished. In particular, it has been suggested that eggs could have been eaten by ravens or due to a lack of calcium in the egg, shell might have not withstand the weight of female eagle and  were broken.

This is an assumption and I am not sure so far. As I have mentioned, there are many assumptions. There is a big question mark, which we cannot answer yet, so we want to find out exactly what is happening, ” said Zura Gurgenidze.

To summarize, at the end of the Chachuna Biodiversity Survey, SABUKO hopes that detailed information on the species and their routes will play an important role in the development of the Chachuna Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

Chachuna Managed Reserve. Photo: SABUKO

The article was prepared as part of the project: ‘Restoring Gallery Forest and Grasslands in the Iori River Valley’’, supported by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and implemented within the framework of the Endangered Landscapes Programme, with the support of the Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin Charitable Foundation Arcadia and implemented by Society for Nature Conservation in collaboration with Birdlife International.

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