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ALTAI MOUNTAINS AND THE WEST

The Altai were formed during the great orogenic (mountain-building) upthrusts occurring between 500 and 300 million years ago and were worn down, over geologic time, into a peneplain (a gently undulating plateau with generally accordant summit heights). Beginning in the Quaternary Period (within the past 2.6 million years), new upheavals thrust up magnificent peaks of considerable size. Earthquakes are still common in the region along a fault zone in the Earth’s crust; among the most recent quakes is the one that occurred near Lake Zaysan in 1990. Quaternary glaciation scoured the mountains, carving them into rugged shapes, and changed valleys from a V- to a U-shaped cross-section; river erosion has also been intensive and has left its marks on the landscape.

As a result of these differential geologic forces, the highest ridges in the contemporary Altai—notably the Katun, North (Severo) Chu, and the South (Yuzhno) Chu—tower more than 13,000 feet (4,000 metres) in elevation, running latitudinally in the central and eastern portions of the sector of the system within the Altay republic. The Tabyn-Bogdo-Ola (Mongolian: Tavan Bogd Uul), the Mönh Hayrhan Uul, and other western ridges of the Mongolian Altai are somewhat lower. The highest peaks are much steeper and rockier than their Alpine equivalents, but the ranges and massifs of the middle Altai, to the north and west, have ridges of about 8,200 feet (2,500 metres), whose softer outlines betray their origins as ancient, smoothed surfaces. Valleys are nevertheless jagged and gorgelike. The ridges are separated by structural hollows (notably the Chu, Kuray, Uymon, and Kansk), which are filled with unconsolidated deposits forming steppe landscapes. Elevations range from 1,600 to 6,600 feet (500 to 2,000 metres) above sea level.

The extreme dislocations suffered by the Altai over the course of geologic time have occasioned a variety of rock types, many of them altered by magmatic and volcanic activity. There are large accumulations of geologically young, unconsolidated sediments in numerous intermontane depressions. The tectonic structures bear commercially exploitable deposits of iron, of such nonferrous and rare metals as mercury, gold, manganese, and tungsten, and of marble.

CLIMATE

The regional climate is severely continental: because of the influence of the great Asiatic anticyclone, or high-pressure area, the winter is long and bitterly cold. January temperatures range from 7 °F (−14 °C) in the foothills to −26 °F (−32 °C) in the sheltered hollows of the east, while in the Chu steppes temperatures can plunge to a bitter −76 °F (−60 °C). There are occasional tracts of the permafrost (ground that has a temperature below freezing for two or more years) that coats great stretches of northern Siberia. July temperatures are warm and even hot—daytime highs often reach 75 °F (24 °C), sometimes up to 104 °F (40 °C) on the lower slopes—but summers are short and cool in most higher elevations. In the west, particularly at elevations between 5,000 and 6,500 feet (1,500 and 2,000 metres), precipitation is high: 20 to 40 inches (about 500 to 1,000 mm) and as much as 80 inches (2,000 mm) may fall throughout the year. The total decreases to one-third that amount farther east, and some areas have no snow at all. Glaciers coat the flanks of the highest peaks; some 1,500 in number, they cover an area of roughly 250 square miles (650 square km).

FAUNA

Animal life follows vegetation patterns. Various rodents populate the mountainous semideserts and steppes, while birdlife includes eagles, hawks, and kestrels. Most species are of Mongolian origin—e.g., marmot, jerboa (a jumping rodent), and antelope. Siberian mammals (bears, lynxmusk deer, and squirrels) and birds (hazel grouse and woodpeckers) frequent the moist coniferous forests. Alpine animal life includes the mountain goat, snow leopard, and mountain ram.

MONGOLIAN SAIGA

Although we have known that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago in Mongolia, you may not have known that Mongolian Saiga still surviving the harsh natural climate conditions, poaching, and smuggling. Saiga is an ancient animal, considerable evidence shows the importance of the antelope to the Andronovo culture settlement of Eurasia, also illustrations of Saiga can be found among the cave paintings that were dating back to the human settlements. They were even around during the time of Sabretooth Tigers and Wooly Mammoths, but now they are facing extinction. Originally the Saiga inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone into Mongolia.

A prominent feature of the saiga is the pair of closely spaced, bloated nostrils directed downward. Other facial features include the dark markings on the cheeks and the nose, and the 7–12 cm, 2.8–4.7 in long ears, stands 61–81 cm, 24–32 in at the shoulder, and weighs 26–69 kg 57–152 lb. The head-and-body length is typically between 100 and 140 cm 39 and 55 in. During summer migrations, a saiga's nose helps filter out dust kicked up by the herd and cools the animal's blood. In the winter, it heats up the frigid air before it is taken to the lungs. The coat shows seasonal changes. In summer, the coat appears yellow to red, fading toward the flanks. The Mongolian saiga can develop a sandy color. In winter, the coat develops a pale, grayish-brown color with a hint of brown on the belly and the neck. The ventral parts are generally white.

Only males have thick and slightly translucent wax-colored horns and show 12 to 20 pronounced rings. With a base diameter of 25–33 mm (0.98–1.30 in), a maximum length of 22 cm (8.7 in).

Saigas form very large herds that graze in semidesertssteppesgrasslands, and possibly open woodlands, eating several species of plants, including some that are poisonous to other animals.

They can cover long distances and swim across rivers, but they avoid steep or rugged areas. The mating season starts in November when stags fight for the acceptance of females. The winner leads a herd of five to 50 females. In springtime, mothers come together in mass to give birth. Two-thirds of births are twins; the remaining third of births are single calves. Saigas are highly vulnerable to wolves. Juveniles are targeted by foxes, steppe eagles, golden eagles, dogs, and ravens.

However, the population size has decreased in recent years and it listed one of the critically endangered species according to the international regional assessments. The Mongolian Saiga also recorded in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the List of globally endangered 100 species. The species is legally protected by the Mongolian Laws on Fauna and Hunting, where its hunting is prohibited and listed as very rare species in the second edition of the Mongolian Red Book. According to the researchers, the saiga distribution areas are still lacking natural hay to be eaten, forcing the populations to travel large distances in search of food. This means that strategic conservation actions are needed, including setting aside Saiga breeding and calving areas for conservation and preservation of the saiga herds. In addition, detailed studies on Saiga genetic survivability/capability are required to prevent this unique, globally important species from going extinct in Mongolia.  


Given the situation, the researchers emphasize the need for conservation strategies for Saiga breeding and protected areas, as well as a thorough study of saiga gene capabilities, to develop strategies to conserve them.

 

The Mongolian subspecies are found only in the western part of Mongolia which is in Sharga Nature Reserves located in Govi-Altai province in the area of Sharga soum and it covers 2.860 km2.  Mankhan Nature reserves also in the western part of Mongolia, located south of Khar Us Nuur National Park in Khovd province. The reserve stretches over 3,000 square kilometers (1,200 sq m). Natural Reserves have been established in 1993 to protect the endangered Mongolian Saiga. Population sizes in Sharga and Khuisiin Gobi are quite changeable.  Saiga’s horns and skin have commercial value and the bone is used for main ingredients for Chinese traditional medicine.

According to the last decade research findings, there were about 5,200 heads recorded in 2000, varied but consistent counts suggest that the population increased to 5,000. The small population in Mankhan was about 200 in 1975, but it was reduced to 35 heads.


According to the latest 2017 data, the population is 4,961 heads of Mongolian Saiga inhabit across its distribution range. Compared to the results of the survey, conducted in January 2017, the Mongolian Saiga population has been reduced by 54.5 percent due to disease outbreak, goat plague. But as of December 2018, it reduced to fewer than 3800.  

Having Saiga living in Mongolia is proof that the Gobi and steppe complete the working ecosystem which has been necessary for the Saiga to have lived this long in the same region for thousands of years.

“WWF and the Government of Mongolia are doing everything they can to prevent them going extinct and WWF has been active in Mongolia since 1992 and remains committed to the vital work being done to save its unique and irreplaceable biodiversity.

 

Furthermore, researchers and scientists are discussing the reintroduction of the species and maintaining a separate population within its historical range would be an option to overcome the risk of the species extinction.

MONGOLIAN WHITE-TAILED GAZELLE 

 

The Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturos) is a native to the semiarid Central Asian steppes of Mongolia, as well as some parts of  Siberia and China. They roaming throughout the entire country from mountainous west to the eastern grassland of Mongolia. Gazelle population now resides usually in Eastern Mongolia including Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Khentii, Dorngovi, in the eastern part of the country Omnogovi, and Dundgovi aimags in the southern part of the country, occasionally found in Tov Aimag which is the central part of the country. These huge herds migrate seasonally in search of good pasture and water sources. They prefer steppe and desert steppe habitats with some vegetation. The Mongolian gazelle is medium-sized with a stocky appearance. It grows up to 150cm in length, stands up to 80cm at the shoulder, and weighs up to 40kg. The coat is reddish-yellow in the summer, becoming lighter in the winter, and it has a light-colored tail and a white patch on the rump. Male gazelles have horns which curve gently backwards from the forehead. It is an extremely fast runner and a good swimmer.

In the winter, they are mostly diurnal, but in the summer, active shortly after sunrise and before sunset. They migrate place to place in spring and autumn, but the distance and direction vary depending on the weather, food and water availability.

The groups usually consist of 20-30 individuals in the summer, and 100 in the winter. However, herds up to 5,000 individuals are not unusual. In 2007, a mega-herd of a quarter of a million Mongolian gazelles was seen gathering on the country's steppes, one of the world's last great wildernesses.

Mating occurs between November and January, with dominant males mating with many females. Gestation takes about 180 days, and large groups (thousands) of females gather at calving grounds between mid-June and July. Each female gives birth to a single calf, although occasionally twins are born.  The calf weighs about 3 kg and can keep up with their mother after a few days. Young are active very soon after birth and reach sexual maturity at 2 years.  They will be able to mate after 17-18 months. In the wild, gazelles generally live between 7 and 8 years.

The Mongolian gazelle is still one of the most numerous large animals in the world, with a total population of around 1.5 million individuals, but roughly 100,000 are killed each year. However, the conservation status is at least concerned. Whether the population is increasing or decreasing is unknown, but the population is known to be subject to significant fluctuations due to diseases and severe winters. The main decline is due to poor weather conditions drought, infectious disease, steppe fires, human and livestock interference, predation by wolves and raptors, linear infrastructure. Mongolian white-tailed gazelles are game species hunted mainly for their hide and meat at subsistence as well as commercial harvesting levels.

The plans to reduce threats to the gazelle and its habitat’s biodiversity include: supporting anti-poaching initiatives; introducing sustainable pasture management; supporting alternative livelihood activities in order to reduce pressure on, and competition for, habitat; and expanding the habitat into areas formerly inhabited by Saiga.

The role and importance of gazelle in nature are:

 

1. Gazelle herds control the number of poisonous insects and bugs that nest in the grass.

2. Gazelle transport plant seeds when they stick to their bodies and the Gazelle migrate, the water stays in the gazelle footprints.

3. By the Gazelle eating sedgy in winter and spring, creates space for sunlight to reach the ground and make a more habitual environment for useful plants.  

4. As thousands of gazelle herds migrate, they help shake dewdrops in the plant and grass helping irrigate the steppe ecosystems which could add up to 50 mm (1⁄4 of the total precipitation) annually.

5. Many Gazelle individuals, provide nourishment to the entire system including the predator’s wolves, foxes, eagles, falcons, and vultures, down to the smaller prey animals’ insects’ flowers and grasses.

6. Gazelle carcasses, feces, and urine are absorbed into the ground and become natural fertilizers, which has a beneficial effect on grass growth.

7. Gazelle is a meteorologist, by his intuition and natural disposition, foresees changes in nature and informs other animals. Gazelle has made a valuable contribution to the prevention of natural disasters for people.

8. The Gazelle is a very generous animal, and they also feed other young gazelles that are not their offspring.

9. Gazelle herds are attracting travelers that enjoy and admire watching them, this also helps to relieve stress a provides a comfortable habitat for other steppe animals.

10. Gazelle creates favorable conditions in the pasture thinning the topsoil of the land and spread the vegetation seeds. Researchers believe that this has a significant effect on the balance of the steppe ecosystems.

11. If the gazelle and chain of prairie wildlife were extinct, it would destroy the whole ecosystem.

MONGOLIAN BLACK-TAILED GAZELLE 

Black tailed gazelle or ‘gazella subgutturosa’ listed in the Mongolian Red Book of Endangered Species as ‘vulnerable’. They spread through most of the territory of Altai in the west, Umnugobi, Dornogobi region in the south and Dornod, Sukhbaatar provinces in the east and sparsely disperses around the great lake’s depression. They usually reside in mountain foothills associated with spear grasses and aggregations or deserts and sandy shrubs and bushes and sandy hills. The black-tailed gazelle stands about 61-70 cm at the shoulder, with a head and body length of 97–118 cm and its tail weighs 20-30 kg and is black or brown. The coat is reddish-yellow and it has a dark-colored tail and a white patch. 1-3 years old youngsters have black patches in the head, adults have white colored head, the whole body has lighter color.  They reach sexual maturity when male 3, female 2 years old. Mating season occurs in between December 20-January 20. According to the filed reaches 60% of the adult give birth to twins.

Black tailed gazelle, easily exposed to natural hazards during harsh weather. They do not migrate place to place like white napped tailed gazelle. They create a group like a goat and stick together as family.  The Black-tailed Gazelle does not live in one area for a long time, and runs for dozens of kilometers on pastures. Hearing is very good and fast; it can travel 55-62 km / h. 3.9 percent of the milk is fat. Baby gazelle follow their mother after 2 weeks of birth, and eat grasses after 10-8 days.

 

The black-tailed gazelle was pasturing on the ridge of a 2700-meter-high mountain in the Mongol-Altai Mountains.  As human activities in the wild area increases substantially, black-tailed gazelles start to inhabit areas far from auto roads or places that are difficult to move around with vehicles.

 

Netherlands Mongolia Trust Fund for Environment and Reform project, jointly implanted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia, World Bank Group and the Government of the Netherlands, the Biology Institute of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences conducted an assessment of reserve population of the steppe and desert ungulates in 2010  reported that the gazelle inhabit a 343,982 square meter territory of 52 soums in 10 aimags and compared to 2000, the population had decreased by 37.6 percent. All of these facts bring about an urgent need to take immediate action to protect this susceptible species.

 

Open water source, springs and pastureland are occupied by human and livestock animals and the consumption intensifies in the Gobi Desert regions to drive black-tailed gazelles away from their natural habitat. Their main enemy is the wolf, eagle, lynx and dzud – the extremes of winter season also kill them in abundant numbers.  In addition, illegal hunting which started a long time ago lead to the loss of herd structure resulting in low distribution.

 

 

The Government of Mongolia registered the black-tailed gazelle as a rare species in 2012.  Since 1962, commercial hunting of black-tailed gazelles has been prohibited and hunting for them for and hunting for personal use had been temporarily allowed only from September 15 to October 30 for one month.  Starting in 1965, the government also entirely forbade hunting black-tailed gazelle and made its main inhabited lands of several Gobi regions strictly prohibited areas.

 

All those factors threaten the lives of this endangered species reveal necessities to make some actions top-priorities, such as protecting and breeding them, implement proper comprehensive management plan and determine factors affecting the status of the population.

 

Black-tailed gazelle, one of the main representatives of the Gobi mammals, plays an important role in the biocenosis or ecological community being one part in the livelihood survival in the chain of the species.  The gazelles are eaten by carnivorous animals such as grey wolfs, vultures and eagles, and their dead bodies are consumed by yellow fox, crow and steppe fox.  In such a manner, the black-tailed gazelles become a significant part of the Gobi ecosystem essentially contributing to the sustainability of environment and wildlife.

 

EAGLE HUNTERS

Mankind has been fascinated by the golden eagle as early as the beginning of recorded history. Most early-recorded cultures regarded the golden eagle with reverence. With its 66 to 102 cm length, 1.8 to 2.34 meters wingspan and powerful foot and sharp talons golden eagles can be trained to be highly effective falconry birds, though their size, strength, and aggressiveness require careful handling to control the risk of injury to the falconer.

 

The culture in which falconry with golden eagles is prominent today is amongst the Kyrgyz people of the Tien Shan Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This practice is also culturally prominent in western Mongolia and Xinjiang. There are around 250 active eagle hunters in Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia, and 50 in Kazakhstan. In these cultures, the golden eagle is considered a highly valued working animal that will be used for 15 years or more. Falconers carry their bird on a gloved right hand, usually with a wooden brace to support its considerable weight. In the Tien Shan Mountains, falconry mostly occurs in late fall and early winter. It is possible for up to 30 to 50 foxes to be caught by a single eagle during this season.

 

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