The Great Gobi is one of the last great wildernesses in the world but is a fragile desert ecosystem that needs protecting. It is the fourth largest desert in the world and this vast expanse covers the whole Southern stretch of Mongolia and continues into China. It is home to unique species which are adapted to survive in this harsh environment including the wild Bactrian camel , Saiga antelope , goitered gazelle, Asiatic ass, Long-eared jerboa , Gobi bear, Saker falcon, and Houbara bustard.
The Critically Endangered Bactrian camel is genetically distinct from it’s domesticated relatives, and better adapted for surviving in the harsh desert conditions than the less hardy domesticated camels. Wild camels are able to drink brackish water and survive. Wild camels can withstand drought, food shortages and even radiation from nuclear weapons testing. There is some evidence to suggest the domestic and wild Bactrian camels are different subspecies because of significant genetic variation between them and the fact that they have had difficulty interbreeding. Fewer than 1,000 individuals survive today in only four locations. Classified as Critically Endangered, these animals continue to be threatened by hunting, habitat loss, and competition for resources with introduced livestock.
Central Asian Gobi Desert has a diverse geography, mostly of rocky terrain, some sand dunes and rivers and steppe. It is a rain shadow desert formed by the Himalaya range blocking rain-carrying clouds from the Indian Ocean from reaching the Gobi territory.
The Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area was established in 1976 and was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1990 as one of the largest biosphere reserves in the world (5.3 million hectares).
This huge area is both economically and culturally important; providing ecosystem services to the human population including water supply, weather regulation, livestock grazing pastures, and firewood. Human pressures for resources on the edges of the Great Gobi Special Protected Area and in its buffer zones have substantially increased in the last two decades. Overuse of water, overgrazing, urban expansion, mining, and climate change through desertification and an increase in harsh winters are negatively impacting the Gobi ecosystem and the livelihoods of local communities.
To address these threats there is a need to:
1. Establish biodiversity and threat monitoring systems to track changes in the Gobi ecosystem and its biodiversity
2. Investigate the natural resource management needs and human behaviours driving key pressures on desert habitat
3. Initiate conservation actions to reduce damaging human behaviours and mitigate climate change pressures.
Previously, ZSL has supported camel research work through an EDGE Fellowship
and the development of a much needed Bactrian Camel Conservation Action Plan. We are now looking to develop a landscape-level project to address the above threats, using the wild camel as a flagship species. The project will aim to secure the future of the Gobi and it’s biodiversity and the local livelihoods dependent on its natural resources is improved by increasing knowledge of
Saiga antelope threats to biodiversity and the social reliance on the ecosystem and its services, leading to recommendations for future holistic management and pilot interventions.