Mongolia

Mongolia Family Photo
Most Mongolians live in rural areas, and about a third are nomadic or semi-nomadic, engaged in livestock herding.
©Amanda Fine
Mongolia Camels Photo
Most Bactrian camels alive today are domesticated with a few remaining in the wilds of Mongolia.
©Ann Winter
Mongolia Landscape Photo
Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world.
©Amanda Fine

Mongolia is a country of majestic yet harsh landscapes—hot and windswept in summer and bone-chillingly cold in winter. It encompasses what is believed to be the largest continuous temperate grassland in existence. The country hosts an array of wildlife species, including large mammals such as ibex, Przewalski’s horses, moose, camels, and two species of gazelles. Magnificent birds of prey—including the endangered imperial eagle, saker falcon, golden eagle, steppe eagle, boreal owl, and cinereous vulture—soar through its skies.

Landlocked between Russia and China, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. Pasture or desert comprise 90 percent of its land; the remainder is forested or cultivated. Most Mongolians live in rural areas, and about a third are nomadic or semi-nomadic, engaged in livestock herding. Spanning extreme climatic conditions, Mongolia’s wildlife habitats exhibit temperatures ranging from higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees below. In the Eastern Steppe, huge herds of Mongolian gazelles still dominate the grasslands. In the west, snow leopards and argali sheep scale the towering Altai Mountains. The critically endangered and endemic saiga antelope roams where the mountains descend to the plains of the Gobi Desert. Unfortunately, a burgeoning trade in wildlife—the result of poverty and heightened demand from foreign markets—has led to serious declines in Mongolia’s rich fauna.

Fast Facts

  • The Eastern Steppe hosts the world’s last great spectacles of migrating ungulates. Mongolian gazelles forage in nomadic rather than fixed migratory patterns, which makes meeting their habitat needs a challenge for conservationists.
  • Mongolia provides habitat for numerous rare or critically threatened birds, including six species of cranes (about half the world’s crane species). Among them are the Siberian and white-naped cranes and Demoiselle crane.
  • Saiga antelope were once abundant across central Asia, but since the 1990s, their global populations have dropped from millions of animals to less than 40,000 today. Long isolated by the Altai Mountains from the more numerous populations in Kazakhstan and Russia, the Mongolian subspecies is critically endangered, with less than 5,000 individuals remaining.
  • Populations of Siberian marmots have dropped by half since 2002. Once numbering up to 40 million (now fewer than 500,000), marmots provide traditional food sources to nomadic herders. Rapidly expanding international trade in marmot skins has precipitated unsustainable population declines and a temporary ban on marmot trapping and hunting.

Challenges

The fur trade threatens a number of species in Mongolia, primarily Siberian and Altai marmot, wolf, red fox, corsac fox, red squirrel, snow leopard, brown bear, lynx, and Pallas’s cat. Poaching for male saiga antelope has been intense due to the high value of saiga horn in the Chinese medicinal market. Heavy grazing by livestock also damages habitat for many threatened and endangered wildlife species. Historically, human populations on the steppe—consisting mostly of traditional nomadic herders—were sparsely distributed, and had minimal impact on the ecosystem. Rising urban unemployment, however, has disrupted this historical pattern of sustainable use and caused more people to rely on wildlife hunting for subsistence and income. Meanwhile declining markets for meat and other livestock products have intensified poverty among herders. The country’s economic needs are also intensifying its extraction of oil, coal, gas, and minerals, which threatens to fragment the steppe. Other threats to Mongolia’s environment include poor planning and management.

WCS Responds

WCS is currently conducting research on saiga antelope, and monitoring the area’s birds for outbreaks of avian influenza. WCS has established Important Bird Areas, worked to educate the Mongolian public on wildlife conservation, and helped to strengthen the country’s laws on hunting and wildlife trade. Working closely with government agencies, our conservationists have trained Mongolian authorities in enforcement techniques to combat the unsustainable and illegal trade in wildlife.

An innovative WCS project also helps local herders collaborate in Livestock Herder Community Conservation groups to monitor and protect the wildlife on the steppe. In most cases these are the herders’ first experiences with developing democratic, transparent, and accountable institutions to make group decisions. Interestingly, the groups are also building local demand for better governance and transparency on a national level, as well as improved natural resource management strategies that benefit rural Mongolians and the wildlife upon which they rely.

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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