Mongolia reaches milestone in global assessment of threatened species

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Red deer from the Mongolia Red List for Mammals.

The Red Books and Red Lists, produced regularly by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are fundamental tools in the monitoring of the conservation status of the world’s animals and plants. On publication, the news they generate is very significant but generally rather depressing. However, these global Red Lists have their limitations at national levels – when species are nationally very common but globally threatened – or when species are very rare and threatened, with no global conservation concern whatsoever.

Take the Red Deer in Mongolia for example. Globally this is formally of ‘Least Concern’ (pdf) – the lowest category – because it has an enormous range, is managed for hunting in many countries, and effectively protected in others. But in Mongolia, its status is the highest possible ‘Critically Endangered’ (pdf).

Just 15 years ago, red deer were sufficiently common in and around the forests of Bogd Khan mountain just to the south of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, that they sometimes wandered into town, confident of not ending up on a shashlik skewer. The Red List tells us that a government assessment in 1986 estimated the population to consist of 130,000 individuals. Uncontrolled hunting and insatiable demand from China for the young ‘blood antlers’ had caused it to be listed as Rare under the 1995 Mongolian Hunting Law. By 2004 the population had dropped to just 8,000-10,000 individuals – a staggering 92% decline in just 18 years.

Clearly a reliable national, as well as global, status needs to be used to determine priorities national conservation actions.

For the last four years, the World Bank’s Netherlands-Mongolia Trust Fund for Environmental Reform program (NEMO) has supported the Steppe Forward Programme, the Zoological Society of London and the Mongolian National University in developing the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank, with the interim aim of covering all vertebrates. This involves agreeing a taxonomy of the species concerned, conducting consultative conservation assessments according to IUCN criteria, publishing the results as Red Lists and Action Plans, and capturing the information in the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank. This has all been achieved for mammals (pdf), fishes (pdf), reptiles and amphibians (pdf), and last week the intellectual work on the birds was completed at a workshop held at Hustai National Park. Mongolia thus becomes first developing country to complete national Red List Assessments for all vertebrates.

The intellectual work on the birds was recently completed at a workshop held at Hustai National Park. Mongolia thus becomes first developing country to complete national Red List Assessments for all vertebrates.


But it doesn’t end there. All the published information is now accessible via an online search tool. This allows a user to choose a point and a defined area around it and produce a list, downloadable as an Excel file, showing all vertebrate species (birds to be entered soon) known from there. This list also shows the global and national threat status and gives a link to the national Red List entry. The Ministry is in the process of issuing a regulation requiring all environmental impact assessments to include reference to and data from this tool so that there is no excuse for inadvertent impacts on threatened species.

Perhaps the larger significance of this work is that Mongolia is now within reach of being able to produce a National Red List Index. This has rather quietly entered the list of official indicators for Goal 7 (Environmental Sustainability) of the Millennium Development Goals last year (pdf).
I was able to attend a day of the workshop and, as with the previous similar meetings, it brought together a dynamic mix of academicians, university staff and students, and international experts. A draft of the Red List text and maps had been put together by the energetic Dr Gombobaatar of the Mongolian National University. He is also the lead author of the Fieldguide to Mongolian Birds, which we were able to support under the Bank-Netherlands Partnership Program as part of the local-language fieldguide initiative; this long-awaited publication is expected to be finally released next year in English and Mongolian editions by A&C Black.

All in all, the team is deservedly pretty pleased with itself; all the more so with the interest shown by the local media in their achievement.


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