Preserving Mongolia’s Unique Biodiversity: A Collaborative Effort

November 30, 2023

Mongolia, renowned for its vast landscapes and unique ecosystems, is home to a wealth of flora and fauna that demand immediate and concerted preservation efforts. Preservation is not just crucial for the environment, but also vital for the well-being of people. 

In this blog, we delve into the efforts aimed at fostering a constructive and effective collaboration between people, institutions, and the legislative environment to safeguard Mongolia's extraordinarily unique biodiversity. The latest studies have shown that the 76.9% of Mongolia’s land has been affected by desertification due to climate change as well as the rapid increase of livestock causing land degradation causing threat to the living environment of plants, animals. Between 2019-2020, almost 2,000 surface water sources have been drained while only less than 1,000 of water sources have been restored in Mongolia. 

The Biodiversity Finance Initiative, known as BIOFIN, implemented by UNDP plays a pivotal role in this regard. A vital part of this project involves supporting the effective implementation of Mongolia's Natural Resource Use Fee Law.

The funding for biodiversity increased from 2008-2018, yet, it is still a small percentage of the state budget, accounting for 0.15-0.25 percent of Mongolia’s national GDP. Without the generous support of donors like the Governments of Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, United Kingdom, Canada and European Union which funds the implementation of the BIOFIN project, this figure could have been much lower.

This simply means less resources and funding for preserving water, forests, plants, land, and animals – founding elements of our life on earth. 

Among Mongolia's environmental laws, the Natural Resource Use Fee Law stands out as it is specifically focuses on the revenue generated from natural resource use fees and the allocation of these funds towards conservation efforts to ensure ecosystem integrity and health. Full implementation could mean over MNT 50 billion (USD 15 million) will be available annually for priority on conservation and climate actions, significantly enhancing the adequacy for rehabilitation of natural ecosystems to reverse biodiversity loss.

Through the BIOFIN project, a series of trainings are being organized across the 21 provinces of Mongolia, including the westernmost three provinces including Khovd, Bayan-Ulgii, and Uvs. During these trainings, our team had the opportunity to engage and interact with local rangers and listen to their insights on Mongolia's biodiversity, the challenges they face, and the changes they hope to see.

En route to these provinces, we made a quick visit to a soum - sub-provincial administrative unit - called Khukhmorit in Govi-Altai province. We had heard of a promising pilot project in this soum aimed at preventing sand shifting and preserving an endangered precious plant species called Agriophyllum pungens as well as Psammochloa villosa. These plant species are native to this area and are used by locals to make a special flour known as "Suli, and tsulihiriin guril" or "Agriophyllum flour," which is a reliable source of antioxidants and phenolic compounds leading to increased demand for the market. Unfortunately, there are no official statistics on the amount of these plants collected and processed, highlighting the need for proper regulation to protect such valuable plants.

Psammochloa villosa growing in the protected area in Khukhmurt soum

UNDP Mongolia

"These precious plants are utilized not only for flour making but also as a source of food for livestock," explained Oyuntsetseg, a local ranger. "The threat to the survival of these plants comes from both people and livestock, as they do not wait for the plants to fully mature. Both collect or consume them before the plants can spread their seeds," she added. However, the unregulated collection of the plant and the continuous growth of livestock pose significant challenges.

Oyuntsetseg, a local ranger of Khukhmorit soum, Govi-Altai province

UNDP Mongolia

At next, we headed towards Bayan-Ulgii province, a home to ethnic Kazakhs of Mongolia, making up approximately 5% of Mongolia's population. 

The main source of Natural Resource Use Fee revenue in Bayan-Ulgii is from the hunting of wild animals. However, despite the substantial revenue generated from hunting, efforts for rehabilitation and conservation, as mandated by law, need improvement. 

On the way to Bayan-Ulgii next to Tsambagarav snowcapped mountain

UNDP Mongolia

Bayan-Ulgii's snow-capped mountains and soaring peaks are habitats for endangered wild animals such as wild sheep, wild goats, bears, and marmots. Juldyz, a local biodiversity specialist, guided us to a hunting area called Bakhlag, approximately twenty kilometers from the provincial center. Legal hunting permits are issued by the Government in this area.

From left Tserennyam, Project Coordinator of BIOFIN II project, and Juldyz, Biodiversity Specialist of Environmental Unit, Bayan-Ulgii province

UNDP Mongolia

We arrived just as the sun began to rise and watched the wild goats and their kids descending from the mountain to the river below.

A herd of wild goats coming down from the mountain to a river for water

UNDP Mongolia

Juldyz informed us that the population of wild goats had significantly increased since their protection efforts began. "I take great joy in observing these animals and their growth. Protecting wildlife is paramount, and by safeguarding wild animals, we see them thrive," says Juldyz. 

Wild goats with their kids, Bakhlag hunting area, Nogoonnuur soum, Bayan-Ulgii province

UNDP Mongolia

The last leg of our journey took us to Uvs province, renowned for its towering mountains and vast lakes like Uvs Lake and Khyargas Lake. Consequently, a sizable part of its Natural Resource Use Fee revenue is derived from land Use and hunting as well. 

From left, Badamjav, local ranger of Ulgii soum and Batmukh, local ranger of Zavkhan soum, Uvs province

UNDP Mongolia

Batmunkh, a ranger from Uvs province engaged in a lengthy conversation with us emphasizing that the ranger's responsibilities extend beyond patrolling the wilderness. Batmunkh said he always tried to stay updated on legal matters and policies and shared his knowledge with herders and locals, raising awareness of the laws and policies. He further emphasized that rangers act as intermediaries between the government, locals, and nature. 

Despite government efforts to provide rangers with the necessary equipment, working in remote areas comes with inherent risks. Insurance schemes, such as life insurance, can make ranger positions more appealing for others and address concerns for their families, he added. 

Badamjav, local ranger of Ulgii soum, Uvs province

UNDP Mongolia

Badamjav, another ranger from Uvs province, noted a concerning trend - the increasing size of livestock which is adversely impacting grasslands and pasturelands. The number of livestock has surged from 22.5 million in 1970 to a staggering 67.1 million in 2021, tripled in size over the last 50 years. Desertification and land degradation, pose a significant threat to biodiversity as the living environment is the core of survival. 

This, coupled with livestock encroachment into the habitats of wild animals, is squeezing the pasturelands of these creatures. Accordingly, human-wildlife conflicts are already being caused due to this situation.

Mongolia's efforts to preserve its biodiversity through initiatives like BIOFIN II is commendable, with the recent commitment of Mongolia's President to increase nature conservation spending to 1% of GDP. However, given the accelerated pace of climate change, land degradation, and increasing number of livestock, crucial biodiversity is under significant threat. 

Less than 8% of Mongolia’s landmass is covered by forests, serving as a home for many species, but they are at risk now due to climate change and invasive forest pests. Furthermore, 52-57% of threatened mammals such as marmot, leopard, deer, and wild sheep are in danger of decreasing further due to hunting, deforestation, and overlap of the territorial range with the livestock pasture according to Mongolia’s Red List of Mammals 2006. 

As we engage with the dedicated local rangers, who exhibit strong commitment and passion for preserving Mongolia's biodiversity, and witness them in the wild, it becomes evident that the challenges they confront are truly formidable. Therefore, our efforts and solutions must carry a comparable weight. The successful nationwide implementation of the Natural Resource Use Fee Law will undoubtedly provide us with a pivotal financing in safeguarding Mongolia's biodiversity.

This is why we are diligently working to support the Government of Mongolia in this endeavor, with the hope that our contributions can serve as a much-needed catalyst to increase investments biodiversity conservation efforts in Mongolia.

Vyenyera Shyndaulyet: Communications Officer, The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN II) and Sustainable Cashmere Platform, UNDP in Mongolia