National Focal Point for GSLEP from Mongolia, Uranchimeg, Director of Natural Resources Policy and Coordination Department of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

The honorable Minister made a video speech during the recent Steering Committee Meeting in Samarkand. You attended the GSLEP SCM and also the CMS COP in February 2024.  What are your expectations from the outcomes of these two meetings? What, in your opinion, can be the main outcome of these meetings that can help snow leopard and other biodiversity conservation in Mongolia?

–       In February 2024, I participated in the 8th meeting of the GSLEP steering committee in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and presented the work being carried out on snow leopards in Mongolia, and did a presentation representing the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for the first time, that became a delighted occasion for Focal Point for GSLEP in Mongolia. It was really important to expand international cooperation to protect snow leopards in Mongolia, to see the possibilities of cooperation in the field of conservation, and to study experiences of other countries. During the conferences we gained great experiences from hearing about the conservation measures of other countries, particularly the nature conservation based on local people, and the work being done at the regional level, and exchange of mutual experiences. 

I would like to emphasize that Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia will cooperate with GSLEP to organize next meeting of the Steering Committee in Mongolia and will consolidate measurements taken on snow leopards as the Focal Point of GSLEP, expand international cooperation, hold national and international scientific meetings and conferences, giving a special attention at the policy level. 

It is important to indicate that, as a country with the second largest population of leopards, Mongolia is responsible for the implementation of a national strategic plan for the conservation of snow leopards. We have currently started developing our strategy.  

Mongolia is home to the world’s second largest snow leopard population. Where are the snow leopards found in Mongolia? What is their approximate population? 

–       The total range of the snow leopard’s habitats area in Mongolia is estimated to be 103,000 km2. Its area of Mongol Altai, Gobi Altai and it branch mountains, Sayani nuruu, Khangain nuruu, Kharihiraa, Turgen, Khuvsgul mountains. According to a recent survey conducted as part of the World Snow Leopard Population Assessment Initiative, it was calculated 953 (ranging between 806-1127), and Mongolia ranks second place in the world in terms of the number of snow leopards. Mongolia became the first country to complete research on snow leopards within the framework of the “Protection of the World’s Snow Leopard and its Ecosystem” program.

Tell us about the country’s achievements in snow leopard conservation over the last 10 years.  

–       Mongolia is implementing and improving the legal framework for the protection of snow leopards, and implementing goals for the conservation of extremely rare and rare species in its policy decisions.

Also, by Resolution No. 03 of 2020 of the Government of Mongolia and Order No. A/09 of the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs of the same year, Ecological Police Department in the Central Police Organization was established which is responsible for policy implementation to protect the environment, fight and prevent relevant crime and violations, and reduce damage to nature and ecology. 

With the establishment of the Ecological Police Service, actions started to be taken at a professional level against crimes against the environment, especially illegal hunting, and made a significant contribution to prevention, control and supervision. 

Mongolia’s long-term policy “Vision- 2050” specifies the goals of protecting extremely rare and rare species, and taking areas under special state protection. For example, by 2030, Mongolia is planning  to have acquired 30 percent of the total land area for PA. As for now, snow leopard habitat areas are taken as PA. Furthermore, we are working on conservation of the animal linking habitats. In this context, we have established a joint working group together with the Ministry of Road Transport Development and the Ministry of Energy to improve the legal environment and standards for the development of wildlife-friendly infrastructure, and to improve intersectoral cooperation, and are cooperating with international organizations such as WWF, WCS, and ZSL.

This working group is entitled “Road and railway barrier fences that are less harmful to the migration and moving of wild animals. Draft standard “General Requirements” is being developed and approved. We are working towards ensuring the participation of government and international organizations, non-governmental organizations and citizens in snow leopard conservation. We are cooperating with many organizations such as Mongolian National University, Science Institute of Biology, SLCF, WWF Mongolia Program Office, to conduct research and improve public understanding of nature conservation and snow leopards based on local communities.

Three landscape management plans are being developed to protect the habitat and prey of the snow leopards in the Mongolian Altai, Gobi Altai and Altai Mountains.

Most recently, recommendations for measures to be taken when encountering snow leopards have been delivered to areas with snow leopards, and the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation has nominated and awarded the best rangers, and arranged the best rangers Awards Ceremony “Rangers of Areas with Snow leopards” in April, 2024.

Also, in order to improve the legal framework for wildlife, we started revising the Law on Animals.

What are the key threats to snow leopards and their habitat in Mongolia, and what measures are being taken to conserve them? Why do you think snow leopard conservation is important for Mongolia and, in particular, what value does snow leopard conservation serve with respect to Mongolia?

– There are few main threats to the Mongolian snow leopards and its habitat.

  1. Conflicts between herdsmen and wild animals arise due to grazing and attacks on livestock as snow leopards home ranges overlap with livestock pastures.
  2. Mining products, which are Mongolia’s main export raw materials, have many negative effects on wildlife habitats, such as overlap with license areas, frightening by machinery, and exposure to illegal hunting.  
  3. In the course of the development of linear infrastructure in Mongolia, local roads are being laid and railway plans are being implemented in connection with the construction of the ports. This has a negative impact on the possibility of expanding home range and creates connectivity problems.
  4. Due to the influence of climate change, the frequency of droughts will increase, there will be a shortage of drinking water, water points will overlap with livestock pastures, and there will be a danger of food shortages due to the decrease in the number of animals that serve as food. For example, in the winter of 2024, in addition to a large number of livestock, ibex and goats were killed in the winter of 2024, which means that there is a risk of a lack of food for snow leopards.  

How does Mongolia cooperate with other countries and organizations in the field of snow leopard conservation and research?

–       We are working in cooperation with international organizations such as GEF, KFW, WWF, UNDP, TNC, GSLEP, WCS, and ZSL in the field of snow leopard conservation and, on the other hand, in the framework of the protection of migratory species. A research work program has been approved as part of transboundary cooperation, and research is currently being carried out in parts A and B of the Siilhem Mountains.

What initiatives and projects are planned by the country in the field of snow leopard conservation at both national and regional levels?

–       We are developing a national strategy for snow leopard conservation. We are planning to cooperate with the parties in the implementation of many projects and initiatives included in the plan. 

For instance, in the planning process of infrastructure construction, we plan to cooperate with the parties to include a wildlife-friendly approach, to implement conservation and tourism management based on local people, to continue long-term monitoring studies, to support the protection of prey animals, and to improve pasture management.

What is the cultural significance of the snow leopard for the people of Mongolia?

–       Mongolians are people with ancient traditions of nature conservation. However, due to the transition to a market economy and natural resources becoming the source of people’s livelihood, illegal hunting and illegal trade increased, and the problem of exporting to China has been increased. In the last 20 years, we have been doing and implementing public influence work in every aspect, and the knowledge and awareness of the public is increasing. It is important to revive traditional customs of nature conservation. Mongolians respect the snow leopard as the owner of the mountain and consider it a representative of the balance of the high mountain ecosystem.

–    Snow leopards have been heavily hunted before the 1970s, and since the adoption of the CITES Convention in 1994, hunting trade of leopards has been banned world wide.

In your understanding, how does associating with other range countries and partner organizations under the GSLEP program help the conservation of snow leopards and mountain biodiversity of Mongolia.

–       Cooperation with other countries and organizations within the framework of GSLEP is very important. It serves as a bridge to raise awareness of the importance of snow leopard conservation at the national and international levels, to support the development of international cooperation, and to expand communication between other countries with snow leopards. Cooperation has an significant role in strengthening the capacity of countries and drawing attention to the direction of snow leopard conservation at the decision-making level.

How is climate change related to the well-being and survival of Mongolia’s local communities, and how can snow leopard conservation programs play a role in implementing climate adaptation strategies? 

–       Mongolia is a country with a nomadic culture and pastoralism that has been passed through since ancient times. Apparently, nomadic animal husbandry is dependent directly on nature. Because of climate change, the number of droughts and natural disasters is increasing, and the existence of nomadic animal husbandry is becoming risky. Since herdsmen live solely on the benefits of animals, the number of animals is increased too much, and in turn, in order to solve many problems such as the degradation of pastures, the increase in the number of infectious diseases, and the overlap with the home range of ​​wild animals, projects and programs play significant roles in involving local communities such as creating alternative sources of livelihood for local people, make them understand the benefits of protecting nature, guiding and implementing reference projects, focusing on the quality over the quantity of animals, rehabilitating pastures, developing tourism based on local communities, developing nature conservation, and protecting water resources.

 The Minister has offered to host an international meeting of the GSLEP program in Mongolia. What would you like this meeting to accomplish for snow leopard conservation nationally and globally.

–       As a country with a significant snow leopard landscape, Mongolia took the initiative to organize the GSLEP international meeting in Mongolia. By organizing this conference in Mongolia, it will be possible to coordinate more cooperation in snow leopard conservation at the national level, as well as international cooperation, transboundary conservation work, long-term research and monitoring, also implementation of projects and programs that necessary for the implementation of Mongolia’s leopard conservation strategy, and distribution of our good practices to other countries.