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 desert

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 continue to cover even more habitats and protected areas 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


PDF icon ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course 2016 Brochure (1.31 MB)

Mongolia - Bactrian camel

Summer Field Course applications are now closed  - Applications for the 2017 Summer Field Course will open in March 2017

PDF icon ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course 2016 Brochure (1.31 MB))

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 2 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 scientist 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 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.

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.

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



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 will operate as a sequel to the most comprehensive IWT study conducted in Mongolia to date, Silent Steppes. The current project will use the survey methods and data collected during the Silent Steppes further investigate the trends in IWT in Mongolia.
  • An assessment will be conducted by ZSL training team focusing on the Border Agency and Mongolian State Policy. Appropriate training will then be provided, to include things such as IWT product recognition and the use of sniffer dogs.
  • ZSL will develop a more user friendly customs database that will help provide a clear picture of international border trade and help identify key hotspots to improve law enforcement.
  • Two multi-agency task forces will be created in two regions 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 needed amendments. ZSL will work with the relevant government agencies to discuss, revise and ultimately get accepted this list of amendments.
  • ZSL and local consultants will develop a protocol to recommend to the Ministry of Environment and Green Development regarding how to direct income from poaching fines at community groups, protected areas and local NGOs.
  • A wildlife crime hotline provides increased information flow between the local community and law enforcement agencies and financial incentives to community members.



Key species:

Siberian Marmot, Saiga antelope, snow leopard

People involved:

Nathan Conaboy, 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