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Wildlife of Mongolia

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Wildlife of Mongolia

Dunes in the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park; the Gobi desert is the fifth largest desert in the world
Bactrian camels in the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, in Ömnögovi Province.

The wildlife of Mongolia consists of unique flora and fauna in eight habitats dictated by the diverse and harsh climatic conditions found in the country. These habitats are flood plains, forests, tundra, taiga forests in the south, salty marshes, fresh-water sources, desert steppes at the centre, and semi deserts, as well as the famous Gobi desert in the south, the fifth largest desert in the world.[1][2]

About 90 percent of this landlocked country is covered by deserts or pastures with extreme climatic conditions; this desert area is the largest temperate grassland habitat. Fauna reported in the wild consists of 139 mammal species, 448 species of birds (including 331 migratory and 119 resident birds), 76 species of fish, 22 reptile species, and six species of amphibians.[1][3][4] Grass land and shrubland covers 55 percent of the country, forest covers only 6 percent in the steppe zone, 36 percent is covered by desert vegetation, and only 1 percent is used for human habitation and agricultural purposes, such as growing crops.[3] The floral vegetation in the Eastern Steppe temperate consists of grassland (the largest of its type in the world).[5]



The country is bounded by many zoogeographic regions bordering Tibet, Afghano-Turkistan, Siberia, and the North-Chinese-Manchurian. This has resulted in a faunal richness which combines the species from each of the border nations.[6] Habitat distribution consists of grass land and shrubland in an area of 55 percent of the country, while forest cover is only 6 percent in the steppe zone, 36 percent is covered by desert vegetation and only 1 percent is used for human habitation and agricultural uses for growing crops.[7]

Water resources

Orkhon River (Орхон гол)
Panoramic view of Lake Khövsgöl

The drainage pattern in the country is dictated by the continental divide which separates areas draining north into the Arctic Ocean from those draining northeast into the Pacific Ocean; the Khangai Mountains form another divide between the areas which drain into the oceans and those which drain inland. In the western and southern zones, streams flow seasonally into salt water lakes without outlets. The rivers of the northern region are perennial, rising from the mountains; the two major river systems are the Orkhon River (Mongolia’s longest inland river within the country which joins the Selenge River) and the Selenge River (Selenga in Russian). The lakes in the country are mostly saline; the largest by volume is freshwater Lake Khövsgöl, a natural lake formed in a structural depression.[8] It is second oldest lake in the world and accounts for 65 percent of the fresh water of Mongolia (2 percent of the that in the world).[9]


The climatic conditions dictated by the oceans on one side and the snow-capped mountains (average peak elevation of 5,180 metres (16,990 ft) in high northern latitudes) on the other side, have a significant bearing on the wildlife distribution in the country. The climate patterns are: Continental climate with very cold conditions (anticyclones are formed here over Siberia) to cool to hot summers in the deserts and semi deserts. Temperature records indicate a very wide variation between winter and summer, of the order of 80 °F (27 °C) on an average in the northern part of the country, and even on a single day the variation can be as much as 55 °F (13 °C). In the Ulaanbaatar area the variation reported is -7 degrees F in January and 63 °F (17 °C) in July while in the Gobi desert area, the average temperature reported for January is 5 °F (−15 °C) and 7 °F (−14 °C) in July.[8]


Rainfall and snow are also very uneven, dependent on elevation and latitude. With annual amounts ranging from less than in some low-lying desert areas of the south and west it is less than 4 inches (100 mm). In the northern mountainous area it is reported as about 14 inches (360 mm) while at Ulaanbaatar the reported annual rainfall is 10 inches (250 mm). The number of days the sky remains clear and sunny is between 220 and 260 days annually. Snow occurs in the mountain regions, in the form of "fierce blizzards" which also cover the steppes. During this period a thin layer of snow totally stops grazing by animals in these pastures.[8]

Legal protection

Commercial exploitation increased between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, necessitating increased legislation. Two laws were enacted in 1995, the Mongolian Law on Environmental Protection and the Mongolian Law on Hunting.[10] The steppe habitat for Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), an area of 275,000 square kilometres (106,000 sq mi), is reported to be the "largest remaining example of a temperate grassland ecosystem".[11]

Protected areas

View from the monastery at Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Immediately after Mongolia attained independence in 1990, the enthusiasm was to declare 100 percent of the area of the country as a national park. However, the figure was pegged at an achievable 30 percent. But due to economic conditions dictating development of mines, the achievement so far has been of the order of 13.8 percent covering an area of 215,200 square kilometres (83,100 sq mi) spread over 60 protected areas. There are four categories of protected areas, and these are: Strictly Protected Areas (prohibiting hunting, logging and development with no human habitation as the defined areas are very fragile eco regions); the National Parks, with their historical and educational interest providing for ecotourism in identified areas and with limited access to the local nomads for fishing and grazing; Natural and Historic Monuments with restricted developmental activities; and Nature Reserves though of less important regions addressed issues of providing protection to endangered and rare species of flora and fauna and archeological value with limited access for development within prescribed guidelines.[12] The Strictly Protected Areas are Bogdh Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve (covering 67,300 ha including buffer area and transition area and established in 1996[13]), Great Gobi Reserve (area of 985,000 ha of core area, established as Reserve in 1975 and as Biosphere reserve in 1990[14]), Uvs Nur Basin Reserve (covers a total area of 810,233.5 hectares (2,002,131 acres) in 1997 as biosphere reserve[15]), Dornod Mongol Reserve (covers a total area of 8,429,072 ha as biosphere reserve designated in 2005[16]) and Khustain Nuuru Reserve (established in 2003 covering an area of 50,600 hectares (125,000 acres)). They are all biosphere reserves under the Man and the Biosphere Programme.[12]

Apart from the above Biosphere reserves, some of the other protected areas under the above four categories are the following.[17]

Strictly Protected Areas
Otgon Tenger Mountain in the Strict Protected reserve
National Parks
Left: herd of Przewalski horse or takhi in Hustai National Park; right: closeup
National Reserves
National Monuments


Saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) in Mongolia, Omnogovi aimag in the desert areas

The flora in the wildlife area of Mongolia is of pasture lands in three-fourths of the country, which is the main source of feed for the large stock oia Britannica, Inc. Specifically there are four vegetation zones. Coniferous forest form the taiga region of the northern areas with alpine noted at higher zones. In the mountain forest-steppe zone vegetation is dense on the northern slopes; Siberian larches (grows up to 45 metres (148 ft) height[18]), Siberian cedars, interspersed with spruces, pines (Siberian and Scotch pines), and firs along with deciduous vegetation of white and brown birches, aspens, and poplars are noted to dominate the area. The inter-montane basins, wide river valleys and the southern slopes of the mountains have steppe vegetation. Pastureland have a cover of feather grass, couch grass, wormwood, and several species fodder plants. In the semi desert and Gobi desert areas, the vegetation is scanty but just adequate for the camels, sheep and goat populations to feed on and survive. Saxaul (xerophytic) a drought-tolerant species is also noted and it provides for the firewood requirements of the people. Elms and poplars are also found near springs and underground water resources.[8] Saxaul shrubs dominate the deserts and they anchor the sand dunes and prevent erosion. It grows to height of 4 m, over a period of 100 years, with very dense wood which sinks in water. Rhododendrons bloom with red, yellow and white wild flowers and edelweiss is also reported. More than 200 plant species are reported to be under threat.[18]


There are 139 mammal species found in Mongolia, and 448 species of birds.[1]


A snow leopard (Uncia uncia)

Mongolia has a number of large mammals, including gray wolves and Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica), as well as more endangered species such as the wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus), the snow leopard (Uncia uncia), the Gobi bear, (rarest and unique to the desert region), the takhi (both wild and domestic types of horses) and the Asiatic wild ass (the largest numbers in the world are found in the Gobi desert).[1]

The saiga antelope, once a common species, has been reduced by pressures including hunting, livestock grazing, and high Chinese medicinal value, with the Mongolian subspecies reaching a critically endangered level, with fewer than 5,000 individuals left in the wild.[4] The wild horse, in particular, had almost become extinct (not seen for more than three decades) and was therefore reintroduced from captive sources. Other species of mammals reported include: argali (Ovis ammon) (in the rocky mountains of the Gobi desert), common wolf, Mongolian saiga (Saiga tatarica mongolica), musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), Pallas's cat (Felis manul) or manul, black tailed gazelle (Gazelle subgutturosa), stone martin (Martes foina), and wild cats in the Altai ecoregion; wild boar (Sus scrofa nigipes), red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer in the forest areas and muskrat, red fox, steppe fox, and sable in the forest and steppe margin areas.[1][19]

Under the WWF-Mongolia conservation programme (a four-year project), snow leopards, Altai argali sheep and saiga antelope and gazelle of eastern Mongolia are receiving special attention.[19] The Zoological Society of London has taken interest to conserve Bactrian camel, long-eared jerboa (Euchoreutes naso), Mongolian gerbil ("meriones unguiculatus") and saiga antelope.[20]


The bird species in Mongolia include several that are very large; six species of cranes present account for half the numbers in the world.[4] There are 22 endangered species of birds including hawks, falcons, buzzards, cranes and owls. Though cranes are not hunted for superstitious reasons, they are still threatened due to habitat degradation and only 5000 breeding pairs are reported, mostly in Dornod’s Mongol Duguur Strictly Protected Area. In eastern Mongolia, a critically endangered species of crane is the white naped crane (Tsen togoru).[7] Overall there are 469 species of birds, including species which are also domesticated and linked to the wild ancestral species. Of these, 330 species are migratory and 119 are seen in Mongolia throughout the year.[5] Species identified include:[19] golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), great white egrets (Egretta alba), whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), great black-headed gulls (Larus ichthyatus), black storks (Ciconia nigra), swan goose (Anser cygnoides) and snowcock (Tetraogallus altaicus) or Altain ular.[19]

Aquatic life

The rivers and lakes of Mongolia are reported to have 76 species of fish, including trout, grayling (khadran; the Arctic grayling and the Mongolian grayling can be widely found in Mongolian rivers[21]), roach,[22]:213 lenok (zebge), Siberian sturgeon (khilem), pike[22]:210 (tsurkhai), perch (algana), Altai osman (endemic to the rivers of Mongolia[21]) and the taimen (a huge Siberian salmon relative, growing up to 1.5 m in length and 50 kg in weight).[7]

Threats and conservation

In a country where Russia was supporting the economy with grants until it became independent in 1990, the situation drastically changed after independence. The country's revenue resources then depended more from the wildlife resources and its landscape, which were subject to serious exploitation necessitating a policy change towards ecotourism to generate revenue to preserve the remaining biodiversity of the country.[23] Other than official action to raise resources of the state, other major threats faced are illegal hunting (for musk deer, elk, boars, squirrels and marmot for illegal trade), grazing of pasture livestock and related needs of water resources (due to large increase in livestock population since 1990), climate change, fires in steppe and forests (resulting in death of many animal species) and severe weather conditions of winter and drought condition.[24]

For conservation of the rich biodiversity of the country Government of Mongolia has established national parks and nature reserves supplemented with laws on hunting regulations and other conservationist measures, and also on hunting and fishing for sport and for commercial purposes.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b c Kohn 2008, p. 50.
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ Kohn 2008, pp. 50–51.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Kohn 2008, p. 52.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b Kohn 2008, p. 51.
  19. ^ a b c d
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^ Kohn 2008, p. 48.
  24. ^


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