Mongolia - Bactrian camel

Mongolia has a wide range of unique habitats, from the taiga forest in the north, through to the 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 focusing 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 dramatically changed. This has resulted in the increasingly unsustainable exploitation of Mongolia’s landscape with much of Mongolia’s flora and fauna experiencing significant declines. 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. 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 desert

The Gobi is one of the world’s last great wildernesses and is gravely threatened by the burgeoning settlements and increased mining of valuable mineral stores associated with 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 to fully understand the effect of these disturbances on the Gobi ecosystem and its flagship species.

ZSL is developing a long-term, integrated conservation programme, for which Bactrian camels are the flagship species. Researching and monitoring Mongolian vertebrates, improving 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 learn more about its status and biology.

Wildlife Picture Index

The Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) aims to measure the success of Mongolia’s protected areas in conserving its species using innovative camera-trapping techniques. This provides an indication of the biodiversity and population levels in, and next to protected areas. After a very successful pilot study in 2009 and the expansion to three sites in 2010, WPI will continue to encompass even more habitats and protected areas whilst still monitoring previous sites to examine long-term trends.

Steppe Forward Programme

Steppe Forward (SF) is a collaboration between ZSL and the National University of Mongolia that aims to empower Mongolians 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 initiative is the summer field course that SF runs each year to train new conservationists. Steppe Forward also produces field guides of Mongolia’s mammals, birds and other vertebrates, in both English and Mongolian. Free copies have been distributed amongst schools and local conservationists to raise awareness of the country’s biodiversity.

Red Lists

Since 2006, ZSL has worked to compile information on Mongolia’s vertebrate biodiversity that enables Mongolian conservation practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and other stakeholders to make informed conservation management decisions.  In 2012, The Bird and Medicinal Plant Red List were launched. As a result Mongolia was 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
  • Samuel Merson 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

PDF icon ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course 2018 Brochure (1.21 MB)

Mongolia - Bactrian camel

Applications for the 2019 Summer Field Course will open in early 2019. Please follow @ZSLConservation for updates and find out more here


Every year the Zoological Society of London’s Steppe Forward Programme brings together students from the National University of Mongolia (NUM) and students in higher education from around the world for a two week field course held in the Mongolian steppe. The course is a unique opportunity to learn about conservation and ecological fieldwork techniques amongst Mongolia’s beautiful landscapes.

The field course contributes to the aims of the Steppe Forward Programme by furthering the conservation capacity of Mongolian Students at the NUM, as well as providing key career skills to international students, and fostering international bonds and collaboration. The course aims to provide the tools and inspiration for a career in conservation and ecology.

The field course is taught by conservation practitioners and scientists from the Zoological Society of London as well as lecturers from the National University of Mongolia; bringing together several nationalities under the umbrella of conservation.

Key topics covered, include, survey design, data analysis and conservation challenges, as well as practical field techniques, all taking place in the incredible rolling landscape of the Mongolian Steppe.

The field course is held in a traditional Mongolian ger camp; students will experience the traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle, camping and eating locally sourced traditional Mongolian food.


Students will sleep in Mongolian traditional round tents known as gers, sharing accommodation with other students in the group. There will be a fully equipped kitchen from which meals will be served. Classrooms for lectures will be held in a separate ger, and most practical sessions will be held outdoors.

Mongolian Gers on the ZSL summer field course Hustai
ZSL Summer Field Course 2014

Course Contents

The field course is a unique academic opportunity that allows students to learn from leading conservation practitioners, and get practical experience with key fieldwork skills to help prepare them for careers in conservation and ecology.

Typical daily activity begins with early morning fieldwork, followed by lectures before lunch and field work in the afternoon. The course provides an opportunity for students to interact closely with the course instructors, and to collaborate with other students who share the same interests.

Fieldwork skills taught usually include, remote camera trapping, bird mist netting, small mammal trapping, and distance sampling.

Topics covered in the lectures include conservation challenges, biodiversity, population ecology, survey design and data analysis.

Before arrival, students will receive a course pack that includes the course schedule, reading, assignments and field session guidelines which will help them prepare in advance for the course.

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.

Many of our field course students have gone on to post-graduate study at some of the world’s leading scientific institutions such as Imperial College London and University College London, and some have continued to work alongside ZSL Scientists on our global programmes. 


English and Mongolian (translation provided).



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

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, conservation and monitoring of the wild Bactrian camel, and projects combating illegal wildlife trade in Mongolia.


Education, raising awareness, 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

Dr Samuel Merson: 

Illegal wildlife trade in Mongolia

Illegal wildlife trade in Mongolia is a serious, yet under-reported problem. A 2006 report, Silent Steppe (Wingard and Zahler, 2006), revealed that the trade is valued at US$ 100 million annually and is causing catastrophic declines of important species in Mongolia. The main cause of this decline is hunting for the fur trade.

Mongolia’s hunted wildlife is often low in value but high in volume, so the impact on a given species is great and the number of species affected is significant. The Siberian marmot has seen a 75% decline in the past 30 years and the population continues to decline due to hunting for its fur. The Saker falcon has declined by over 60% in 20 years, largely as a result of live capture for the pet trade.

Siberian Marmot, Mongolia.
Siberian Marmot, Mongolia.

What is ZSL doing?

  • The project has completed the most comprehensive IWT study conducted in Mongolia to date, Mongolia Silent Steppe II: Mongolia’s Wildlife Trade Crisis, Ten Years Later. The current project will use the survey methods and data collected during the first Silent Steppe report published in 2006, allowing the continued investigation of IWT trends in Mongolia.
  • A ZSL assessment will be conducted of Mongolia’s Border Agency and State Police. Appropriate targeted training will be provided, including topics such as illicit wildlife product identification, and improving the use and effectiveness of detector dog units.
  • ZSL will develop an improved, user friendly, Customs database that will help provide a clear picture of international border trade and help identify key trafficking hotspots to improve law enforcement.
  • A multi-agency task force will be created in priority region/s to complement the existing task forces in the Eastern Steppes.
  • ZSL and Legal Atlas will conduct a desk-based review of Mongolia’s existing wildlife-related laws and draft a list of priority amendments. ZSL will work with the relevant government agencies to discuss, revise and ultimately seek the incorporation of these amendments into Mongolia’s legal framework.
  • In partnership with Mobicom, Mongolia’s largest telecom provider, ZSL will implement an IWT awareness raising campaign. This will increase the sharing of information passed between the local community and law enforcement agencies, ultimately aiding the policing of illegal poaching and the trade in wildlife.


Key species:

Siberian Marmot, Saiga antelope, snow leopard

People involved:

Dr Samuel Merson, Munkhjargal Myagmar, Myagmarsuren Shagdarjav, Dr Gitanjali Bhattacharya, Dr Gombobaatar Sundev.


DEFRA, Ministry for Environment and Green Development, Mobicom, Legal Atlas.

More information:

Silent Steppe Report