Eastern Steppe, Mongolia

Eastern Steppe of Mongolia Photo
Mongolia’s Eastern Steppe is the largest expanse of unspoiled, temperate grassland in the world, home to animal species such as the Mongolian gazelle.
©Thomah Mueller

Encompassing more than 95,000 square miles, Mongolia’s Eastern Steppe is the largest expanse of unspoiled, temperate grassland in the world. Each year, about a million Mongolian gazelles migrate across this vast landscape of short grass and sparse trees, in herds of thousands of animals at a time. Many other mammals also live on the steppe, including the gray wolf, Siberian marmot, steppe polecat, Pallas’s cat, and Daurian hedgehog. The endangered saker falcon soars above the steppe, and six of the world’s 13 species of crane are found here, including the rare Siberian crane.

While few human settlements or fences interrupt this breathtaking landscape, the future of the steppe—as well as the future of one of Earth’s last great migration spectacles—depends on the protection of the region at large. Sound land management will be essential to protecting the Eastern Steppe’s abundant natural resources.

Fast Facts

  • Mongolia has the lowest human population density of any country in the world, and the Eastern Steppe has one of the lowest densities in Mongolia.
  • Many people on the steppe continue the ancient tradition of nomadic livestock herding.
  • Marmots are key members of the steppe ecosystem, providing food for wolves, foxes, and eagles and providing shelter and homes for many mammal species. Even birds, such as ruddy shelducks and Isabelline wheatears, nest in marmot burrows.
  • Nomrog Strictly Protected Area is located at the eastern tip of Mongolia’s steppe, where a moister climate provides habitat for classic steppe species, as well as wild boar, raccoon dog, and Ussurian moose.

Challenges

Throughout Mongolia, illegal hunting has wiped out local populations of many species, with thousands of gazelles, marmots, and other species being slaughtered in recent years. Poachers target animals with international value, primarily for the fur trade and traditional Chinese medicine, and Mongolian authorities have a hard time enforcing hunting laws over such a vast area. Competition with livestock is another threat, as heavy grazing degrades grassland habitats and impacts many threatened species. Increasing development also endangers the steppe. Oil wells, roads, fences, and small settlements are cropping up across the landscape and threaten to disrupt gazelle migrations. Lacking the resources necessary to enforce environmental regulations, Mongolian authorities struggle to ensure that oil and mineral extraction companies abide laws aimed at protecting animals and local communities.

WCS Responds

WCS has been studying the migratory patterns and habits of gazelle populations to better manage the Eastern Steppe landscape and to identify critical Mongolian gazelle habitat for preservation as the region undergoes development. Partnering with local residents and grassroots organizations, WCS fosters community-based management of natural resources. By helping livestock herders organize and manage their herds and the land in a sustainable fashion, by teaching them about pasture rotation and sound stocking rates of livestock, and by training local rangers to monitor and protect wildlife and enforce local hunting regulations, we hope to simultaneously protect the landscape and support these local communities. WCS is also collaborating with the Mongolian government to halt illegal poaching and wildlife trade on the Eastern Steppe.

WCS Projects

Herdsman Conserving Eastern Mongolia

The Mongol people have historically herded livestock across communal lands. Today, approximately 30 percent of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic. This method of livestock production often causes habitat destruction and loss of native wildlife. WCS has been working with herder groups to develop wildlife management, protection, and monitoring plans in their community-managed areas. Herders and volunteer rangers learn to rotate their pastures and enforce wildlife protection laws against illegal hunting.

From the Newsroom

The Rougher Side of CashmereJuly 24, 2013

A new study by WCS reveals that the proliferation of the cashmere garment industry poses dangers to wildlife, including snow leopards, wild yak, Tibetan antelope, gazelles, and kiang, pictured here.

Livestock, Not Mongolian Gazelles, Drive Foot-and-Mouth Disease OutbreaksJanuary 29, 2012

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