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Snow leop­ards will get a new pro­tected area in Mon­go­lia soon

pub­lished 23 April 2016 | mod­i­fied 25 April 2016

Snow leopard LasyaMongolia’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 the Snow Leop­ard Trust (SLT) this 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 is a huge step for­ward for the pro­tec­tion of the endan­gered snow leop­ard in this part of its range
Charu Mishra, Sci­ence & Con­ser­va­tion Direc­tor, Snow Leop­ard Trust »

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 Snow Leop­ard Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion and Direc­tor of SLT’s Mon­go­lia Programme.

Mongolia map Tost mountainsA map of Mon­go­lia, show­ing the pro­posed area for Tost Nature Reserve (red) and exist­ing Pro­tected Areas (dark grey).
Image credit Snow Leop­ard Trust.

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)

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