MONGOLIA EXPEDITION

Day 11: Back to project base…

KHARKHORIN TO HUSTAIN NURUU

A long drive day today as we wind our way back east in the direction of Ulanbaataar. We are headed to the Hustain Nuruu National Park to meet some more MBDP herding families and visit the project base of operations where the pups begin their training.

Hustai (also called Khustain) Nuruu National Park lies in the foothills of the southern Khentii Mountain Range about 100km south west of Ulaanbaatar. Named for the birch trees or “khustai” growing in the surrounding forests and the mountains or “nuruu,” the area was used at the turn of the century as a private hunting ground for Bogd Khaan, the last ruling Khaan of Mongolia. Mountain steppe blends the species of Siberian taiga and the Central Asian steppe. The cooler, moister northern slopes are a typical forest habitat, while steppe vegetation such as Siberian Needlegrass predominates on the other slopes. This type of steppe ecosystem is being destroyed by ploughing for cultivation, overgrazing, and wood collection throughout much of Central Asia. Here at Hustai, the land has only been used by nomads as pasture, it has never been used for agriculture or settlement, and so the threatened steppe ecosystem is preserved and protected.

Mongolians are tremendously proud of their natural heritage and proclaimed their first protected area more than 200 years ago. Despite the country’s difficult transition to a free market economy and successive changes of government, the Mongolian Parliament has strengthened environmental laws and announced plans to extend the protected area system from 14% to 30% of the country’s landmass.

In 1990, an agreement of cooperation was signed between the Mongolian Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment (MACNE), the Foundation Reserves for the Przewalski Horse (FRPH), the Governor of the Central Aimag (province) and representatives from Altanbulag, Bayankhangai and Argalant soums (districts) who owned the land on which Hustai National Park is now located. In 1993, Hustain Nuruu was upgraded from protected area status to reserve status and conservation measures were strengthened. In 1998, the area’s status was upgraded once more and Hustain Nuruu Reserve became Hustai National Park. As a national park, regulations on land use were tightened and all grazing and hunting was forbidden. The priority is the long term conservation of the ecosystem’s biodiversity. A sustainable ecosystem is being restored using modern genetic and geographic principles and nature management is being integrated with social-economic processes to allow local people to benefit from wildlife conservation. In line with this aim, many buffer zone programs have been initiated in the area surrounding the park.

Hustai Nuruu is home to the Takhi, the world’s last truly wild horses, a critically endangered population. Park management hopes to establish a viable, self-sustaining population of Takhi and eventually a breeding centre for Takhi re-introduction programmes throughout Mongolia and the Central Asian Steppe.

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[Photos courtesy Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project/OEX]

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