Mongolia’s Parliament declares the Tost Mountains a State Protected Area. This mountain range is home to a stable, breeding population of snow leopards.
The Great Ikh Hural, Mongolia’s parliament, has approved a proposal to turn the Tost Mountains, a prime snow leopard habitat in the country’s South Gobi province, into a Nature Reserve, one of four categories of State Protected Areas under Mongolian law. Under this designation, only traditional economic activities such as livestock grazing that aren’t harmful to nature will be allowed, while mining, construction, and hunting will be prohibited.
According thethis parliament’s decision in favour of the proposal is a major achievement for those who championed the proposal for many years — such as the local government at Gurvantes, the provincial government of South Gobi and most of all Tost’s local communities.
One of the largest protected habitats in the world
“This Nature Reserve will be a bridge between two existing Protected Areas, the Great Gobi and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park,” added Charu Mishra. “The resulting landscape will be one of the world’s largest continuous protected snow leopard habitats.”
Under Mongolian law, the government will now appoint a working group, consisting of members of several relevant government agencies and public sector partners, to work out the specifics of the new National Park, including its precise boundaries. The Government has 60 days to complete this task.
“Within the 8163 km2 that are being considered for the National Park, there are currently around 12 licenses for mining exploration, and 2 active mining sites, says Bayarjargal Agvantseeren, the leader of Mongolia’s and Director of SLT’s Mongolia Programme.
As mining activities won’t be permitted within the park boundaries, the working group now has to come up with a solution for the land affected by mining licenses. The licenses can either be revoked, in which case the companies holding them would be compensated, or the licensed land be kept out of the National Park. To protect the ecological integrity of the area, it would be important to revoke licenses that fall inside the boundary.
Site of the most comprehensive snow leopard study to date
Tost is the site of the world’s most comprehensive long-term snow leopard research study, being conducted by the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, Snow Leopard Trust, and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences since 2008. The conservation organization Panthera was also a partner in the study until 2012.
In this study, scientists have so far tracked 20 snow leopards with GPS satellite collars, gaining unprecedented insights into the behaviour and ecology of these cats, and monitoring wild snow leopard cubs in their dens for the first time ever.
Remote-sensor camera data collected over a span of five years has shown Tost’s snow leopard population to be stable and reproducing, with at least 12 adult cats using the area at any given time.
A win that was years in the making
Given the importance of this ecosystem both to the endangered snow leopard and the local pastoral community, the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation and local people began making efforts for its protection in 2008. In 2010, the community achieved a major breakthrough, as both the provincial and central governments agreed to give Tost and Tosonbumba the status of a Local Protected Area. This offered some level of protection from further expansions of mining in the area, but could not guarantee the ecosystem’s long-term future.
The project team recognized this early on, and began working with the local community and leadership toward achieving State Protected Area status in 2012. Now, 4 years, this collective effort has paid off, and Tost should remain a safe haven for snow leopards.
(Source: Snow Leopard Trust press release, 14.04.2016)