Mongolia - Bactrian camel

Mongolia has a range of unique habitats, from taiga forest in the north, through desert steppe in the centre, to the wilderness of the Gobi desert in the south. Each of these habitats contains many fascinating, highly threatened species, such as the Bactrian camel, long eared jerboa and Asiatic wild ass. ZSL has been working on creating conservation tools such as RED lists of Mongolian vertebrates and the Wildlife Picture Index, as well as training conservationists under the Steppe Forward programme, and involving and educating communities for conservation. We have been focussing conservation efforts on the Gobi desert in particular, where focal species like the Critically Endangered Bactrian camel and Gobi bear are in dire need of protection.

Why we are there

In the aftermath of the collapse of the communist rule in the early 90's, Mongolia’s economy has changed drastically. This has resulted in an increase in had devastating effects on massive implications for Mongolian flora and fauna. Although around 30% of Mongolian territory has some level of protected status, the effectiveness of these protected areas, and the effects of these threats are not fully understood. Many species having experienced drastic declines. For example, there may be as few as 22 Gobi bears left in the wild, and there are fewer than 1000 Bactrian camels still in existence. 


The Gobi is one of the last great wildernesses in the world and gravely threatened by the burgeoning settlements and increased mining of valuable mineral stores that have resulted from Mongolia’s rapid social and economic development over the past two decades. There is an urgent need to address the growing challenge of habitat degradation and fragmentation, yet we know too little about the habitats and biodiversity of this region and habitats to understand the effect of these disturbances on the Gobi ecosystem and flagship species. ZSL is developing a long-term, integrated conservation programme, for which Bactrian camels are the flagship species. Researching and monitoring Mongolian vertebrates, building up conservation infrastructure and encouraging community involvement and environmental awareness will help to protect this vulnerable region. More recently we have begun working with the threatened Gobi bear to find out more about its status and biology.

Wildlife Picture Index

The Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) aims to measure the success of protected areas in conserving species across Mongolia using innovative camera-trapping techniques. This will give an indication of biodiversity and population numbers in and next to protected areas. After a very successful pilot study in 2009 and the expansion to three sites in 2010, WPI will cover even more habitats and protected areas in 2011 whilst still running previous sites to monitor trends.

Steppe Forward Programme

Steppe Forward (SF) is a collaboration between ZSL and the National University of Mongolia that aims to empower Mongolian people to create and manage conservation programmes by providing them with the tools and skills necessary to design and implement their own ecological studies, surveys and monitoring schemes. An important part of this is the summer field course that SF funs each year to train new conservationists. Steppe Forward also produces field guides to the mammals, birds and other vertebrates of Mongolia, in both English and Mongolian. Free copies have been distributed amongst schools and conservationists to raise awareness of country’s biodiversity.


Since 2006, this project has worked to provide information for Mongolian conservation practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and developers about the status of Mongolia's vertebrate biodiversity and make the necessary conservation management decisions.  In 2012, The Bird RedList and Medicinal Plant Redlists were launched 2012. An International Workshop on Mongolian Bird Red List was held in Mongolia in 2009 and a Summary Conservation Action Plans for Mongolian Birds is in the process of being completed. Mongolia will then be the first country in Asia to have produced regional Red Lists of all their vertebrate species.


Project information

Key species

ZSL works with the National University of Mongolia on three EDGE species in Mongolia:

  • Bactrian Camel, Critically Endangered
  • Long eared Jerboa
  • Saiga Antelope, Critically Endangered

Our other flagship species in Mongolia:

  • Gobi bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis), Threatened 
  • Goitered gazelle, Vulnerable
  • Asiatic wild ass (Onager), Endangered

People involved

  • Gitanjali Bhattacharya manages the Mongolia programme at ZSL
  • Nathan Conaboy is the project coordinator based in Mongolia
  • Gombobaatar Sundev manages the Steppe Forward Programme
  • Jon Bielby runs the Red List Programme

Partners and sponsors

  • National University of Mongolia
  • Kindly funded by: World Bank


Mongolia - Bactrian camel

2014 Field course applications are now closed

The Zoological Society of London's Mongolia-based Steppe Forward Programme (SFP) provides students from Mongolia and all accredited colleges or universities with a unique opportunity to learn about Mongolian biodiversity and conservation challenges and ecological fieldwork skills and tools in a unique natural setting amongst Mongolia’s steppe grasslands.

The course brings together a diverse group of Mongolian and international students bound by a common passion for ecology and environmental sustainability.

The field based course will be taught by conservation practitioners and scientists from the Zoological Society of London with input from lecturers from of the National University of Mongolia amidst Mongolia's unique rolling Steppe grasslands.

Students will experience traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle, camping and eating locally sourced traditional Mongolian food.


Students will stay in a small camp, sharing tents with other students. There will be a fully equipped kitchen and dining facility where meals will be served. Classrooms will be set up in a separate ger and most lessons will be held outdoors. Gers are large, round, traditional Mongolian tents.


The field course is a unique academic opportunity that allows students to learn from leading conservation practitioners and gain an appreciation for ecological processes and become equipped with the tools to study these processes.

The course will consist of introductory field techniques backed up by practical hands-on sessions in the field. Morning lectures will coincide with designated labs and topical discussions allowing students to apply classroom knowledge to practical sessions.

You will receive the course pack before your arrival that includes the course schedule, reading, assignments and field session guidelines which will help you prepare in advance for the course.

Typical daily activity will revolve around a morning lecture and afternoon field work which will provide an opportunity for students to interact closely with the course instructor(s), and to collaborate with other students who share the same interests.

SFP prides itself in offering an “outdoor classroom” format where concepts and theories will be discussed and practical enquiry can be honed and tested in field conditions. Ideas and interests will be shared and we hope that the students will be inspired to contribute towards the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

Topics covered under the course will include:

  • Study design and key protocols
  • Data collection: random and stratified sampling methods, laying and monitoring of transects, direct and indirect methods, collecting data on field attributes, point counts, mark-release-recapture, mist netting, camera traps.
  • Data analysis: null hypotheses, basic statistics and analysis of collected data.
  • Presentation of analysed data


English and Mongolian (translation provided).


1st to 3rd year biology or related subject undergraduates from a recognised higher education institution.

Students in good academic standing from all major colleges and universities may apply for the course.

About the Steppe Forward Programme

The Steppe Forward Programme is a collaboration between the Zoological Society of London and the National University of Mongolia. Since 2003, we have developed and implemented a wide-range of conservation projects across Mongolia.

At present, these projects include field courses, wildlife camera trapping, conservation assessments for the production of National Red Lists, publishing of field guides to the birds and mammals of Mongolia, and implementing conservation projects on species such as the long-eared jerboa and the wild Bactrian camel.

Education, awareness raising and training are of real importance for conservation in Mongolia. The Steppe Forward Programme has a strong record in these areas, in particular through organising and running student field-courses.

The Steppe Forward Programme aims to empower Mongolians to create and manage conservation programs by providing them with tools necessary to design and monitor their own conservation initiatives, assess wildlife populations and design ecological studies.

The programme intends to significantly strengthen skills and develop initiative amongst Mongolian professionals working in ecology and conservation, providing capacity for continued high standards of training and practical conservation needed in Mongolia.

Contact Information

Steppe Forward Programme

Address: Faculty of Biology, National University of Mongolia, Ikh Surguuliin Gudamj 1, Ulaanbaatar 210646, P.O. Box 46A/537, MONGOLIA