Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe
, are not only impacting communities in Mongolia, but the findings could help revitalise communities of the Great Plains of North America.
Working closely with local communities in Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag province of Mongolia, the scientists' research - headed up by Dr Richard Reading, Director of Conservation Biology at Denver Zoological Foundation and Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver - into the Mongolian Steppe fauna has helped them to establish a tourism camp in Ikh Nart to help to generate revenue to support the protected area and provide jobs and income for local people. This is already proving successful and the scientists believe partnerships between nature-based tourism operators and protected-areas-management authorities offer a potentially significant source of additional funding for protected areas management.
In a newly published paper, the scientists set out the ways in which this model from Mongolia can be applied to the Great Plains, where more and more communities are becoming ghost towns. These two iconic grassland ecosystems share some similar problems, including overgrazing; Mongolia faces the challenges of poaching, illegal mining, and inadequate management, training and resources for Mongolian natural resources managers, rangers, and administrators; the difficulties in the Great Plains include land conversion to farming and inadequate management. The Plains are depopulating and local communities are struggling to survive.
Dr Richard Reading and his colleagues are now distributing the outcomes of their work and working with communities in both Mongolia and North America (primarily in western Nebraska, working with the Grasslands Foundation) to bring about change.
Dr Reading and his team have been working to conserve the wildlife of Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag for the past ten years, studying species such as Argali sheep, lesser kestrels and cinereous vultures. The research is beginning to shed light on the ecology of the entire plant and animal community of Ikh Nart, a prerequisite to effective ecosystem management and conservation. In 2009 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) selected Ikh Nart Nature Reserve as a model protected area for a new project on protected areas and sustainability. Of all the protected areas evaluated by UNDP, Ikh Nart obtained the highest score for conservation management. As well as receiving extra funding for the project, it will be used as a model which other protected areas in Mongolia could emulate and adapt to improve conservation management. The work has also led directly to Ikh Nart's designation as an Important Bird Area in Mongolia and has gained the attention of the federal government, which is considering upgrading the status of Ikh Nart from a nature reserve to national park.
Finally, with the help of a former Earthwatch volunteer, the research team have helped to establish a women's cooperative named Ikh Nart is Our Future, that includes more than 12 women selling products on an Ikh Nart theme. The women have become ardent supporters of the reserve.