Black-tailed gazelle essential contributor to sustain Gobi ecosystem

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In previous editions, the Mongol Messenger presented the Gobi Great Six initiative being implemented by the WWF Mongolia in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Environment Office of the Gobi-Altai Aimag and the Administration of Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area to protect Gobi ecosystems as well as introduce the Mongolia Saiga which is one of the symbols of well-being and health of the Gobi ecosystems.

We are now presenting our readers with ‘goitered’ or ‘black-tailed gazelle, which is included in the Red Book of Endangered Species.

The population of the black-tailed gazette or Gazella subgutturosa is listed in the Mongolian Red Book of Endangered Species as ‘vulnerable’.  It was estimated to be at around 20 thousand Gazelle inhabiting 343,982 square km territory of 52 soums of 10 aimags in Mongolia with a population density of 0.3 head per 10 square km according to research made in 2010.  Comparing different studies made more recently, the distribution territory of black-tailed gazette has been reduced 1.5 times, showing its population has declined 5.8 times and the population density per 1 square km has been reduced 6.6 times.  All of these facts bring about an urgent need to take immediate action to protect this susceptible species.

The black-tailed gazette's decline is mainly due to climate change effects and both direct and indirect human wrongdoing.  Therefore, populating black-tailed gazette in Uvs, Khyargas and Khar Us Lakes basins and Khom Steppe and Khuis Gobi areas and domesticating them under the protection and efforts of local residents is one way to save the species living in this territory.

“After annual counts on territories with the same population density of of 0.3 heads per 10 square km, such as west side from the Aj Bog – Zakhui – Zarman and Dalanzadgad to Ih and baga Bogd and east from Dalanzadgad, it was concluded that trophy hunting or other another type of hunting designed for adjusting the number of species would help the species of black-tailed gazette to expand and multiply on the one hand and serves to preserve the original natural environment and its biological diversity on the other” said Ph.D L.Amgalan, Head of Animal sector of the Institute of General and Experimental Biology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.

By qualification of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Categories and Criteria, the black-tailed gazette was globally listed as ‘vulnerable’ and regionally evaluated as ‘vulnerable’.  The black-tailed gazelle stands about 61-70 cm at the shoulder, with a head and body length of 97–118 cm and its tail weighs 20-30 kg and is black or brown.

In Mongolia, the species is spread through most of the territory of Altai Gobi region and Umnugobi and Dornod aimags, southern part of Dornogobi aimag and the south west of Sukhbaatar Aimag and sparsely disperses around the Great Lakes Depression.  They usually reside in mountain foothills associated with spear grasses and aggregations or deserts and sandy shrubs and bushes and sandy hills.  It was once recorded that the black-tailed gazelle was pasturing on the ridge of a 2700-meter-high mountain in the Mongol-Altai Mountains.  As human activities in the wild area increases substantially, black-tailed gazelles start to inhabit areas far from auto roads or places that are difficult to move around with vehicles.

With financial support by phase two of the Netherlands Mongolia Trust Fund for Environment and Reform project (NEMO-II), jointly implanted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia, World Bank Group and the Government of the Netherlands, the Biology Institute of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences conducted an assessment of reserve population of the steppe and desert ungulates in 2010 to report that the goitered gazelle inhabit a 343,982 square meter territory of 52 soums in 10 aimags and compared to 2000, the population had decreased by 37.6 percent.

Open water source, springs and pastureland are occupied by human and livestock animals and the consumption intensifies in the Gobi Desert regions to drive black-tailed gazelles away from their natural habitat.  Also, chasing after them with vehicles and hunting them with the use of lamps causes them to flee and the population declines.  Since the 1960s, animal husbandry has been attached more importance creating more threats for the species such as possession of open water sources and oases by humans, and owning uninhabited pasture lands to grow vegetables and an abundance of vehicles in their habitat areas.  Their main enemy is the wolf, eagle, lynx and dzud – the extremes of winter season also kill them in abundant numbers.  In addition, illegal hunting which started a long time ago lead to the loss of herd structure resulting in low distribution.

The Government of Mongolia registered the black-tailed gazelle as a rare species in 2012.  Since 1962, commercial hunting of black-tailed gazelles has been prohibited and hunting for them for and hunting for personal use has been temporarily allowed only from September 15 to October 30 for one month.  Starting in 1965, the government also entirely forbade hunting black-tailed gazelle and made its main inhabited lands lands of several Gobi regions strictly prohibited areas.  B part of the Great Gobi Strictly Prohibited Land, A and B parts of the Small Gobi Strictly Prohibited Land, Gobi Three, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park in southern Mongolia and Zag Water Reserve land, which are home to the largest number of them and are the most important territory for black-tailed gazelle’s reproduction.

Black-tailed gazelle’s distribution land is estimated around 10,929.272 thousand ha land, which accounts for 20.1 percent of the state specially protected areas of Mongolia.  Certain measures are being taken by different popel, porjects and organizations creating an open water sources in the desert and steppe areas for gazelles, providing extra fodder during dzud times, employ cooperative conservation methods of natural resource management within the distribution area and involving  local participation in conservation efforts and stopping illegal hunting activities,  reintroduce the species in the Great lakes Depression and the Valley of the Lakes, creating conditions conducive for gazelles to migrate to its northern boundary and preserving gene pool.  However, those steps have not met with much up until today.

From 1940-1960, the size of the distribution area of black-tailed gazelles in Mongolia declined by over 50 percent.  According to studies, a total of 2610 goitered gazelles of 255 flocks were registered, most of them were in Umnugobi and Dornogobi aimags.  In late autumn and the start of winter, the number of gazelles in each flock are usually higher than in the spring and summer seasons.  During times of stable growth, each flock of gazelle have 60 heads.  During migration and relocation to another place, the number of head in each flock is around 30-100.

Despite the fact that black-tailed gazelle inhabit areas distant from high population and infrastructure areas, the decline in their population shows the increasing problem of their deteriorating living environment such as the the growing mining explorations followed by more infrastructure and road networks.  All those factors threaten the lives of this endangered species reveal necessities to make some actions top-priorities, such as protecting and breeding them, implement proper comprehensive management plan and determine factors affecting the status of the population.

Black-tailed gazelle, one of the main representatives of the Gobi mammals, plays an important role in the biocenosis or ecological community being one part in the livelihood survival in the chain of the secies.  The gazelles are eaten by carnivorous animals such as grey wolfs, vultures and eagles, and their dead bodies are consumed by yellow fox, crow and steppe fox.  In such a manner, the black-tailed gazelles become a significant part of the Gobi ecosystem essentially contributing to the sustainability of environment and wildlife.

B.Oyundelger

Photo by Ts.Purevsuren

The article is featured in the Mongol Messenger's issue No. 46 for November 18.