By Oyuntulkhuur Bandi, National Coordinator for "Mongolia's Network of Managed Resource Protected Areas"
Summer. It is about four in the morning in the western Mongolia. The air is fresh air, and the scene stunning. Snow capped mountains in the distance home to many of the world’s endangered species. Argali sheep, ibex, and snow leopards inhabit this area, but it is also home to a man in his 40s sitting on a rock looking through his binoculars. This is one of the spots from where he works from – an area with an excellent overview of the landscape.
Mandakh, a strong, tall man thoughtfully gazes into space. He loves this country, its unique scenery, and biodiversity. His mind rolls back to his past. He recalls he used to be a skilled hunter in the pristine nature of Uvs province. He hunted mainly for argali sheep, and marmots. Then one day everything changed and he gave up hunting animals and decided instead to protect them. He became a ranger.
His journey goes back to 2008 when WWF-Mongolia started its conservation initiatives, in the area. In those days, Mandakh was one the participant trained by WWF Mongolia. The agency along with other international organizations brought the notion of community-based conservation to the Gulzat area. It was through this training and many more that Madakh along with others were exposed to another side of life.
Those training sessions convinced him about the importance of conservation activities by local people, and so he decided to actively participate in the conservation of Gulzat’s Locally protected area. The region is part of the trans-boundary area of Altai Sayan eco-region between Mongolia and Russia. This is one of few hunting areas in Mongolia where trophy hunting of Argali sheep is controlled and local communities receive some of the benefits.
Since 2013, the UN Development Program has been active in the area, and is continuing conservation initiatives through the local community. There have been a number of training sessions dedicated to raising awareness of conservation, and strengthening of management skills.
The LPA has almost doubled during the last 4 years reaching 215 995 ha area compared to the 2008 (126 772 ha) when the LPA was created. As a result, the habitats of rare species, such as Argali sheep and black tale gazelle are under extensive protection.
Mandakh feels proud that he is protecting his homeland, and securing its future for generations to come. Besides Mandakh, 198 herder households based within the LPA have joined forces – forming 13 Community-based organizations (CBO), that also protect the area.Every member of CBO is a ranger but there is also an official Volunteer ranger in each CBO that monitor, inspect and observe conservation and protection of the environment. The population of Argali sheep has reached 1500, double the number since 2011, and four fold of what it was in 2003, when the first joint inventory of Argali was undertaken with Russian researchers.
"The LPA has almost doubled during the last 4 years reaching 215 995 ha area compared to the 2008 (126 772 ha) when the LPA was created. As a result, the habitats of rare species, such as Argali sheep and black tale gazelle are under extensive protection."
Growth in the population of Argali has resulted in the growth of hunting quotas allocated to Uvs aimag. Now the hunt engages local community members who feel involved and valued, and receive social and livelihood benefits. The local governments has also started to redirect revenue back to wildlife conservation.
“I now see value of conserving the environment is in the joint efforts of local community and rangers to preserve intactness of the nature. The benefits received from the nature protection activities motivate the protection efforts of the locals. Today, we should protect our land from the encroachment of mining activities, the major stress in Mongolia” say Mandakh.