Mongolian Gazelle

Mongolian Gazelle Photo
©Kirk Olson

Mongolian gazelles, medium-sized antelope with a heart-shaped patch of white fur on their rump, are among the last great herds of migratory wildlife. Over a million of these antelope migrate across the vast expanse of Mongolia’s Eastern Steppe—the largest intact grassland in the world—as they search for forage throughout the year.

Herds of as many as 10,000 gazelle are commonly seen across the steppe with larger congregations occasionally reported. During the two weeks of the calving season, up to 40,000 females will gather in areas of 14 square miles, and the vast majority will give birth within a four-day period. In addition to giving the babies strength in numbers to help stave off wolves, domestic dogs golden eagles, and other predators, this synchronicity also ensures that the young will grow big enough by winter to survive the harsh weather. During severe winters, when high winds and heavy snow accumulation block access to browse and bring the threat of frostbite, the gazelles are vulnerable to significant die-offs.

WCS and our Mongolian and international partners study the migratory patterns and habits of gazelle populations to better manage the Eastern Steppe landscape which is under pressure from development, primarily oil, gas and mineral exploration.  WCS works to prevent the fragmentation of critical gazelle habitat and preserve the intactness of the grasslands to ensure the free movement of Mongolian gazelles and secure the large area requirements of this migratory species.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameProcapra gutturosa
  • The Mongolian gazelle migration across the steppe has been described as “nomadic” as they search for forage across a range that includes Mongolia and parts of China and Russia.
  • The gazelles can reach speeds of 40 mph and can jump as high as 6.5 feet and as far as 20 feet. They are also strong swimmers.
  • In a single year an individual gazelle can roam over 7,000 square miles.
  • Male Mongolian gazelles live about 8 years and females live about 10 years in the wild, which is considerably less than other related ungulates. The short lifespan is partly related to quick wearing-down of the teeth.
  • Mongolian gazelles are an important source of food for local people, and are heavily hunted, both legally and illegally.
  • The Mongol people have historically herded livestock across communal lands. Today, approximately one-third of the human population is nomadic or semi-nomadic.

Challenges

Until the 1950s, Mongolian gazelles were found throughout most of Mongolia and the adjacent regions of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and China, an area of more than 450,000 square miles. Now the species is found only in the eastern portion of this range, reduced to an area one-third the original size. Across its entire range, the species is estimated to number 1–2 million.

IUCN lists the Mongolian gazelle as near threatened. The reasons for the species’ decline include overhunting, human conversion of grasslands for agriculture and other developments, and competition with livestock, as heavy grazing degrades their habitat. Increasing development also endangers the wildlife of 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 over such a vast area, Mongolian authorities struggle to ensure that oil and mineral extraction companies abide laws aimed at protecting animals and local communities.

Poachers in Mongolia target gazelles and other species for the international fur trade and traditional Chinese medicine. Rutting males and pregnant or lactating females are killed after the legal hunting period, when they are easier targets.

WCS Responds

In response to a road proposal through prime gazelle grasslands—the “Millennium Highway” to connect Mongolia to China and eastern Russia—WCS urged planners to consider the gazelles’ needs and to ensure protection of the Eastern Steppe.

As the region undergoes development, our priorities include identifying critical Mongolian gazelle habitat for preservation and fostering community-based management of natural resources. We partner with local residents, helping livestock herders to tend their herds and the land in a sustainable manner, managing pasture and using livestock stocking rates which will prevent rangeland degradation. We also train local community rangers to monitor and protect wildlife and enforce local hunting regulations, and collaborate with the Mongolian government to halt illegal poaching and wildlife trade on the Eastern Steppe.

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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