Among the world's greatest spectacles are overland ungulate migrations – milling hooves, billowing dust, and congregating animals in the midst of bleats and bellows.
While the best known examples are the African wildebeest and Alaskan caribou, Asia has some of the most magnificent (and least-known) migratory spectacles on earth. This includes over a million Mongolian gazelle, the extraordinary saiga antelope, the high-plateau Tibetan antelope, Tibetan and goitered gazelle, Asiatic and Tibetan wild ass, and the wild yak.
Together these ungulates provide a unique and diverse assemblage of large mammals supremely adapted to living in the harsh, arid, and cold steppe and desert environments of Temperate Asia.
While these great herds inhabit some of the true "last of the wild," growing threats – rampant and unsustainable poaching for food, skins, and the traditional medicinal market, along with a rapid increase in extractive industry and the concomitant growth of linear infrastructure that blocks critical movement and fragments landscapes – imperil these last great migratory spectacles.
The saiga antelope had its numbers plummet from over 2 million to about 50,000 animals in only 20 years from rampant poaching for horns used in traditional medicine. Focused conservation in recent years saw numbers rebound to over 300,000, but a mysterious disease-related die-off in spring of 2015 resulted in over 200,000 deaths in a little over two weeks.
WCS programs have been protecting all eight of the key Asian temperate migratory ungulates and their grassland steppe, desert, and plateau landscapes for over twenty years. This includes research and monitoring to better understand their behavior, ecology, movements, and habitat use; anti-poaching initiatives to protect them from illegal hunting; landscape-level protection projects; and policy recommendations and interventions to help ensure connectivity and intactness across some of the last great, still-wild tracts of land remaining on the planet.
1million sq. km
The Tibetan antelope or chiru produces perhaps the finest and most expensive wool in the world, called shahtoosh – which sadly has led to an alarming decline in numbers due to poachers. Once numbering over a million animals, the numbers may have dropped to below 100,000 in recent decades. Beginning in the 1980s, WCS performed the first significant field studies of the species and helped create a suite of new protected areas in Tibet, including the massive Changtang Nature Reserve.
The khulan or Asian wild ass is endangered, with Mongolia’s Gobi region holding 80% of the total global population. Khulan move in a nomadic pattern, tracking unpredictable resources in their desert environment. Some of their movements can be enormous – WCS’s extensive monitoring and conservation work in the Gobi found a group of collared khulan had traveled over 80,000 square kilometers – an area the size of Austria – in just one month.
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