Mongolia’s sweeping landscapes range from the vast grasslands of the Asian steppe to the harsh, rugged Gobi Desert. Scattered across this striking terrain are more than 4,000 rivers, streams and lakes, including Lake Hovsgol — one of the oldest and deepest lakes in the world.
This breathtaking beauty harbors extraordinary biological and cultural heritages. The wide range of habitats provides refuge for highly endangered plants and animals, including the Bactrian camel, Gobi bear, Saiga antelope and Siberian ibex.
Mongolia harbors the largest intact and isolated region of temperate grasslands on Earth, in part because it has the world’s lowest population density, with almost half the people living in the capital and the remainder spread across an area three times the size of France. But mounting pressures from a new era of free market economy threaten to destroy this traditional lifestyle and the wildlife that depend on this vast landscape.
Ancient Landscapes, Modern Pressures
Mongolian culture is strongly influenced by shamanistic traditions and Tibetan Buddhism, both of which emphasize a powerful connection with nature. Ghengis Khan and other subsequent Mongolian leaders regulated hunting of some species through closed seasons, prevented logging and hunting on sacred mountains and in 1778 declared the country’s — and world’s — first national park.
Despite Mongolia's strong tradition of protecting natural resources, its biodiversity is imperiled by rapid change and development. Expanding mines, oil fields, roads, railroads and agriculture, combined with deforestation and climate change, threaten the long-term prospects of this landscape. Overgrazing, over-hunting and poaching are also negatively affecting protected areas and vital interconnecting habitats that are necessary for effective grassland conservation.
Seizing an Opportunity
The rolling grasslands of the Mongolian steppe extend across central and eastern Mongolia into northeast China and the North China Plain. Graced by the Mongolian gazelle and one of the most vibrant nomadic herding societies in existence, these temperate grasslands are an intact remnant of one of the most imperiled and least protected terrestrial habitat types on Earth. Less than six percent of the Mongolian steppe has protected status and only two percent of that is adequately managed and enforced.
The Mongolia steppe presents one of the last and best opportunities on Earth to protect grasslands and savanna at a scale big enough to support the wildlife and nomadic people who have relied on these lands for millennia, and who will continue to depend on them in the future. Preserving the natural systems of these vast landscapes and recognizing the needs of the local people is imperative for lasting conservation in Mongolia.
The Conservancy is bringing decades of grassland conservation experience to the Mongolian Steppe, while at the same time learning from those already living and working in these regions. Since the departure of the Soviet Union in 1990, Mongolia has been working toward developing economically while conserving biodiversity and nomadic traditions. The Conservancy was invited at this early stage to work with Mongolians towards finding a balance between good conservation and economic growth. This opportunity is giving us a significant opportunity for large-scale conservation by allowing us to guide environmental policies as they are being written, instead of trying to correct negative policies in the future.
This large-scale conservation is especially important for the Mongolian gazelle. These gazelles are nomadic ungulates that follow no fixed migration route and require extremely large areas of grasslands to survive. By reducing the encroaching threats to the Mongolian grasslands, we are reducing threats to the gazelle and other species that rely on these grasslands.
What The Nature Conservancy is Doing
- Working with the Mongolian government and conservation community to preserve natural resources, manage protected areas and slow environmental degradation.
- Conducting workshops to introduce the Conservancy’s scientific methodology — Conservation by Design — to Mongolian conservationists.
- Assisting in the enhancement and design of Mongolia’s protected area network.
- Helping preserve intact landscapes between protected areas so that wide-ranging species such as the Mongolian gazelle can continue seasonal migrations.
- Working with eastern steppe stakeholders to create common conservation vision and goals.