Of the approximately 3.5 million inhabitants of Mongolia, only a small part lives outside the cities. This is also true for the two Aimags surrounding the Great Gobi B reserve “Khovd” and “Gobi Altai”, where most of the non-city dwellers lead a traditional nomadic life.
During the year, nomads seek out the best possible grazing grounds for their herds (mostly sheep and goats). The criteria for their seasonal migrations are as follows: rich vegetation, little snow in winter and spring, sources of water and cool, mosquito-free areas during midsummer. Migration in the Gobi B reaches its peak in spring (April-June) and is limited to two north-south axes that connect the mountainous regions of the Mongolian-Chinese border with those of the Altai Mountains in the north.
Nomads have a close relationship with horses, which is embodied by the traditional Mongolian Naadam celebrations, where horse racing, along with wrestling and archery, are the main activities.
Families meet at Naadam and Tsagaan sar (Mongolian New Year), where festive meals (buuz, airag, khorkhog) are served, games (shagai) are being played and the families sing along to songs played on the traditional horsehead violin (morin khuur).
Research has shown that more than 80% of local nomads earn between 75 and 100% of their income from animal husbandry. The gathering of cashmere wool is the most important branch of the economy, even though the nomads make a rather small profit compared to western cashmere prices. Felt handicrafts made from sheep’s wool are very popular in Mongolia and are being produced increasingly for tourists by small cooperations. It is important for the nomads to have several economic mainstays.
The nomadic life is demanding. The expenses of the Mongolian nomads must primarily cover food, travel to other settlement and shopping locations, clothing, and the education of their children. Nomad children often have long journeys to school and from high school onwards, they usually live in the city with their relatives or in boarding schools and only come home during the holidays.
Using regulations and the management plan, the Mongolian state created a legal framework for the protected areas and provides financial support if they are complied with.
As a result of the direct democracy of Mongolia, the local aimags, bags and sums can incorporate the wildlife conservation policy of the central government and implement it in their areas, giving the regional and local authorities as well as the ITG a lot of leeway. However, this demands a great deal of responsibility as well: Everyone is asked to pursue their interests independently, assuming that they contribute to the preservation and the maintenance of the protected area.
This democracy is lived intensely in the area around the Great Gobi B. The park administration is in regular contact with the local and regional authorities. In the case of major decisions and changes, local meetings are organized with the stakeholders, where the topics are discussed intensively until a consensus is found.
Since 2018, Lena Michler has been studying how the nomadic use of the Gobi B is compatible with its protection goals. Initial surveys show, that many local nomads support these goals and hope for even more cooperation with the park administration. They have already been informing the park officials if any unusual incidents regarding the takhi and the protective regulations are observed. Observations of other wild animals in the Gobi B are also regularly reported.
The ITG’s goal is to promote the exchange of knowledge and skills with the Mongolian partners and to hand over the project in the future, only providing advice and support.
Thanks to the in-depth contacts with the government and the regional and local population, this project is well on its way. Both the park administration and the ITG office in Ulaanbaatar are taking on more and more strategic tasks.
A contract between the Mongolian government and the ITG regulates the cooperation between the two partners in the further development of the Great Gobi B SPA. The ITG’s exchange with the park administration, the local and regional authorities, but also with the central government in Ulaanbaatar, in particular with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), is correspondingly close and on a regular basis.
Every 10 years, the park administration compiles a management plan in which the development and activities for the next period are defined. The proposal will be assessed by the responsible ministry and the funds will be granted for further development steps.
The ITG makes an important contribution to the development of the management plan each time to also achieve the best possible cooperation and mutual complementarity in accordance with the cooperation agreement and the ITG’s strategy.
In order to increase the understanding of the protected area, eco-clubs were founded in local and regional schools, in which the concept of wildlife conservation is conveyed and deepened through excursions. Rangers visit schools and organizations regularly to talk about the Gobi B and the challenges of protecting the ecosystem.
Additionally, the park administration is in close contact with the governments of the individual administrative subdivisions such as aimags, sums and bags.
Since 1992, Przewalski’s horses have also been reintroduced into the Hustai Nuuru National Park, west of Ulaanbaatar with a size of around 600 km2. The Dutch couple Inge and Jan Bowman established an exemplary project together with the “Mongolian Association for the Conservation of Nature” and in 2021, around 400 takhi were living in the park.
Another 100 animals are living in the Khomyn tal, in western Mongolia. The project was initiated by WWF France and developed by Claudia Feh from Switzerland. The area is currently fenced in, with the prospective goal to release the takhi into freedom.
The three reintroduction projects closely exchange information and sometimes appear together in political matters. In recent years, animals have also been exchanged between the projects in order to increase the genetic diversity.
The ITG is currently working with the Academy of Sciences in Xinjiang / China to create a transnational protected area.