TRIP TO MONGOLIA TOURS
INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS
FLORA AND FAUNA
Mongolian diverse and distinctive vegetation includes an important part of plant life in Asia. Species representing Siberian coniferous taiga forest, Central Asian steppe and
desert, and the Altai and Sayan Mountains all occur here. Steppe plants from Kazakhstan grow beside Manchurian steppe flowers. More than 3,000 species of vascular plants, 927 lichens, 437 mosses, 875 fungi and numerous algae have been recorded. Many other species, however, remain to be classified.
Mongolia's flora includes almost 150 endemic plants and nearly 100 relic species. Over 100 plant species are listed in the Mongolian Red Book as rare or endangered. Like its vegetation, fauna of Mongolia represents a mixture of species from the
northern taiga of Siberia, the steppe and the deserts of Central Asia. Fauna includes 136 species of mammals, 436 birds, 8 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 75 fish and numerous invertebrates.
Species endemic to Central Asia are found primarily in the Gobi and desert steppe including the Mongolian subspecies of the Saiga antelope tatarica
mongolica, four species of jerboa and a vole that are endemic to
Central Asia. The birds include the Altai Snowcock Tetraogallus altaicus and Kozlov's accentor Prunella
kozlovi. Reptiles endemic to Central Asia include eight species. Endemic fish include the Altai
Osman Oreoloeuciscus potanini and the Mongolian grayling Thymallus brevirostris. Numerous globally threatened and endangered species occur in Mongolia.
There can be said to be three distinct types of ecosystem related to flora - grassland and shrubs (52% of land surface), forests (15%) and desert vegetation (32%). Crop cultivation and human
settlements make up less than 1% of Mongolia's territory. Although there is so much grassland here, used for grazing, overgrazing is a problem in some areas.
Forests - The natural regeneration of Mongolian forests is slow and the forests are often damaged by fires and insects due to the harsh climate. 8.1% of Mongolia's
territory is covered by forest totaling 140 species of trees, shrubs and woody plants. Trees are used as a source of fuel, whether it is the larch, pine or birch in the north or the saxaul in the Gobi
Desert. Timber is cut in the north of the country for building.
Vascular and Lower Plants - There are 2823 species of vascular plants, 445 species of moss, 930 species of lichen, 900 species of fungi and 1236 species of algae. 845 species of plants are used in
Mongolian medicine, 1000 species for fodder, 173 for food and 64 for industry. There are now 128 species of plant listed as endangered and threatened in the 1997 Mongolian Red Book. These include 75
medicinal species, 11 for food and 16 used in industry.
Anyone traveling in Mongolia may find it difficult to distinguish
between wild and domesticated animals as both roam freely on the open steppe, for example, Wild Ass are seen among domesticated horses. Although Mongolia doesn't have the large game such as lion,
elephant and rhino that attracts visitors to African parks, it does have many very rare and endangered species such as the snow leopard, Argali and Ibex.
Mammals - There are 133 mammals in Mongolia, many of which are endemic to Central Asia and Mongolia, including the Mongolian Vole, Mongolian Gerbil, Gobi Jerboa,
Kozlov's Pygmy Jerboa, Mongolian Jerboa and the Mongolian Hamster. The white-tailed gazelle, Saiga Antelope, Przevalski horse, Beaver and Siberian Ibex have been re-introduced to the areas where they
have become rare.
Wildlife. The wildlife flourishes in Mongolia despite an extreme climate, the nomadic fondness for hunting, the communist persecution of Buddhists who had
set aside areas as animal sanctuaries, and a penniless government, which lacks resources to police nature protection laws. Your chances of seeing some form of wildlife are good, though the closest you
will get to a snow leopard, argali sheep or moose is museum.
Despite the lack of water in the Gobi, some species (many of which are endangered) somehow survive. These include (in Mongolian) the wild camel (khavtgai), wild ass (khulanf,
Gobi argali sheep (argal), Gobi bear (mazalaii, ibex (yangir) and black-tailed gazelle Ikhar stiult zeer). In the wide open steppe, you may see the rare saiga antelope.
Mongolian gazelle, the jerboa rodent (endemic to Central Asia) and millions of furry marmots (tarvag) busy waking up after the last hibernation, or preparing for their next.
Further north in the forests live the wild boar, brown bear Ikhuren baavgai), antelope.
Birds. Mongolia is home to over 400 species of birds. In the desert you may see the desert warbler, houbara bustard and saxaul sparrow, as well as
sandgrouse, finch and the
cinereous vulture (tas).
On the steppes, you will certainly see the most common bird in Mongolia - the grey demoiselle cranes (ovogt togoruu) Ч as well as varieties of hoopoes (ovoolj), the
odd eagle (shonkhor) and vulture (yol). Other steppe species include the upland buzzard, steppe eagle, saker falcon, black kite and some assorted owls and hawks (sar). Some of
these will even swoop down and catch pieces of bread in mid-air if your throw it up high enough.
These magnificent creatures, perched majestically on a rock by the side of the road, will rarely be disturbed by your jeep or the screams of your guide ('Look. Eagle!! Bird!! We
stop?') but following the almost inaudible click of your lens cap, these birds will move and almost be in China before you have even thought about apertures.
In the mountains, you may be lucky to spot species of ptarmigan, finch, woodpecker, owl and the endemic Altai snowcock (khoilog). The lakes of the west and north are visited
by Dalmatian pelicans, hooded cranes, relict gulls, and bar-headed geese.
Eastern Mongolia has the largest breeding population of cranes, including the hooded and Siberian varieties and the critically endangered white-naped crane, of which only 4500 remain in the wild.
Fish. Rivers such as the Selenge, Orkhon, Zavkhan, Balj, Onon and Egiin, as well as dozens of lakes, including Khovsgol Nuur, hold about 380 species offish. They include trout, grayling (khadran),
roach, lenok (eebge), Siberian sturgeon (khilem), pike (tsurkhai), perch (algana), the endemic Altai osman and the enormous taimen, a Siberian relative of the salmon, which
can grow up to 1.5m long and weigh 50kg.
According to conservationists, 28 species of mammals are endangered. The more commonly known species are the wild ass, wild camel, Gobi argali sheep, Gobi bear, ibex and the
black-tailed gazelle; others include otters, wolves, antelopes and jerboas.
There are 59 species of endangered birds, including many species of hawk, falcon, buzzard, crane and owl. Despite Mongolian belief that it's bad luck to kill a crane, the white-naped crane is threatened with extinction. Serious numbers of falcons continue to be smuggled from Mongolia to the Gulf states,
where they are used for sport.
One good news story is the resurrection of the takhi wild horse. The takhi - also known as Przewalski's horse - was actually extinct in the 1960s. It was successfully
reintroduced into two national parks after an extensive breeding program overseas. For more on the takhi see the boxed text "Takhi - The Reintroduction of a Species" in the Central Mongolia chapter.
In preserved areas of the mountains, about 1000 snow leopards remain. They are hunted for their pelts (which are also part of some shamanist and Buddhist traditional practises), as
are the snow leopards' major source of food, the marmot.
Every year the government sells licenses to hunt 300 ibex and 40 argali sheep, both endangered species, netting the government over US$500,000.
For centuries, Mongolians have been aware of the need for conservation. The area around Bogdkhan Uul mountain, near
Ulaanbaatar, was protected from hunting and logging as early as
the 12th century, and was officially designated as a national park over 200 years ago.
Today the Ministry of Nature & Environment (MNE) and its Protected Areas Bureau (PAB) control the national park system with a tiny annual budget of around US$100,000 per annum.
This is clearly not enough, but through substantial financial assistance and guidance from international governments and non-governmental organizations, the animals, flora and environment in some
parts of the country are being preserved. Unfortunately, in many protected areas the implementation of park regulations are weak, if not non-existent.
The MNE classifies protected areas into four categories which, in order of importance, are:
- Strictly Protected Areas Very fragile areas of great importance; hunting, logging and development is strictly prohibited and there is no established human influence.
- National Parks Places of historical and educational interest; fishing and grazing by nomadic people is allowed and parts of the park are developed for ecotourism.
- Natural Reserves Less important regions protecting rare species of flora and fauna and archaeological sites; some development is allowed within certain guidelines.
- Natural & Historical Monuments Important places of historical and cultural interest; development is allowed within guidelines.
In 2000 the government created five new national parks and one new natural reserve. The 48 protected areas now constitute an impressive 13.2% of the total land. The government is
aiming for 30% coverage, which will create the largest park system in the world. At the time of independence in 1990, some put forth the proposal that the entire country be turned into a
The Bogdkhan Uul, Great Gobi and Uvs Nuur Basin strictly protected areas are biosphere reserves included in Unesco's Man and Biosphere Project.
Permits. To visit these parks - especially a strictly protected area or national park -you will need a permit, either from the local Protected Areas bureau office, or from
rangers at the entrances to the parks. The permits are little more than an entrance fee, but they are an important source of revenue for the maintenance of the parks.
Entrance fees are set at “1000 per foreigner per day, plus an extra T300 to T3000 for a vehicle, depending on whether it is driven by a Mongolian or a foreigner (though just
having a foreigner in the car is enough to qualify for the T3000 fee).
If you are not able to get a permit and are found in a park without one, the worst penalty you're likely to suffer is being asked to leave or pay a fine to the park ranger.
- Facts about Mongolia 2000. by Da. Gandbold. ADMOND Co.Ltd., Mongolia.
- Mongolia. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.
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