US & Tajik project team aiding Dushanbe Zoo

Local Team Helping Former USSR Zoo

Members of a locally-based U.S. project team from Holy Cross School, Khujand Computer Technologies, Volunteer Connections, and Black Pine Animal Park recently completed a two-week visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, taking a major step within the scope of a year-long effort to help improve the Dushanbe Zoo. Dushanbe, formerly Stalinabad, is the capital of Tajikistan, located north of Afghanistan in Central Asia. Tajikistan gained independence from Russian rule in 1991, but subsequently suffered a horrific civil war that resulted in the deaths of 60,000 citizens and many of the formerly acclaimed Dushanbe Zoo's animals. Since the war ended in 1997 Dushanbe has struggled to stabilize its economy. Only recently have the Tajik people been embracing a rich and ancient past and turned their interests to rebuilding their cultural attractions. A $75,000 U.S. State Department-funded grant administered by the American Association of Museums through the Museums Community Collaborations Abroad program was awarded to Black Pine Animal Park, a local exotic animal sanctuary, late last year. The grant was awarded to help improve zoo safety, education and animal care at the Dushanbe Zoo. The project got underway in February when Victor Ibgagimov, the Tajik-based team project manager and Youth Opportunities representative, visited the U.S. to work with his counterpart in Fort Wayne, Roger Kovacs, founder of Khujand Computer Technologies and the grant proposal's author. Plans were made for the U.S. team to travel to Takistan in April. During the team's visit improvements were made to a bear habitat, an area was excavated for the installation of a new playground, and construction of a new lion habitat got underway. Since the team returned to the U.S. on April 15 Tajik volunteers have continued making progress on the new lion habitat and started new projects, including improvements to a wild hog habitat. Plans are being made now for the Tajik team to visit the U.S. in late June or early July. Black Pine Animal Park was selected as the project's fiscal agent because of their recent success in relocating over 80 animals to a new site and rebuilding the sanctuary from the ground up through volunteerism and community support. The park hopes to continue to share its knowledge related to starting and managing a volunteer program, with support from Noble County-based Volunteer Connections, and generating community support. Black Pine will also benefit from the project with the incorporation of Tajik carvings and artwork into a future construction project. The art will serve to permanently honor this international cultural exchange and ongoing friendship between greater Fort Wayne and Dushanbe..

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