Herdsman Conserving Eastern Mongolia

In Mongolia’s Eastern Steppe, a million Mongolian gazelles continue to migrate across what is perhaps the world's largest intact grassland ecosystem. And here, about a third of the region’s humans carry out traditional nomadic, or semi-nomadic, lifestyles. They collect native grasses for hay, use wood for fuel, and eat wildlife as an alternative to their livestock. But socio-economic changes over the last few decades have disrupted the balance between the Eastern Steppe’s human and animal communities.

Challenges

Demand from China for wildlife products has grown exponentially. Couple that with Mongolia’s rough transition from a Soviet-based economy (with strict hunting and trade controls) to a struggling free-market economy and the result is increased overgrazing, overhunting, and poaching. Enforcing laws in a sparsely populated area about the size of Oregon is difficult. Over the course of 15 years, illegal hunting has cut the number of Siberian marmots in half. The gazelles must compete for food with livestock. Mongolian scientists report gray wolf and red and roe deer populations are down. There are indications that Corsac and red foxes are declining as well. The country’s economic needs are fueling oil, coal, gas and mineral exploitation in the region.

In 2006 the Mongolian government, recognizing the need to manage wildlife locally, gave herders in community partnerships the right to protect, own, and use the wildlife in areas of up to 25,000 acres. In some of these sites, however, local governments are unaware of the new rights, or their approval of proposals from community partnerships has been low.

Goals

  • Educate local communities about wildlife and natural resource conservation
  • Empower livestock herders to manage wildlife and other natural resources in their area
  • Foster democratic, transparent, and accountable local institutions with the rights and ability to enforce wildlife protection laws
  • Increase detection and prosecution of illegal wildlife use in community-managed areas, thereby controlling the wildlife trade at its source
  • Develop the capacity for wildlife law enforcement at the community and county level by training rangers, raising awareness, and facilitating cooperation with government enforcement agencies

What WCS is Doing

In close partnership with the Eastern Mongolian Community Conservation Association (EMCCA), WCS has been working with Eastern Steppe communities since 2006. WCS-Mongolia has organized meetings and training workshops to familiarize community leaders with the new legislation regarding community partnerships, train volunteer rangers, and coordinate wildlife protection efforts among county inspectors, rangers in protected areas, and volunteer rangers. Volunteer rangers learn how to use equipment, monitor wildlife, and record and report observations of violations. EMCCA and WCS have established community partnerships, taught livestock herders how to sustainably use their pastures and protect wildlife, and fostered communication between community partnerships and their local governments. In April 2009, 11 herder community groups had been formed to exercise their rights to the wildlife they depend on and the natural resources on their traditional lands.
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