Mongolian gazelles face major habitat loss from human activity • Earth.com

Mongolian gazelles face major habitat loss from human activity • Earth.com
Mongolian gazelles face major habitat loss from human activity • Earth.com

Africa’s wildlife hotspots are renowned, but Asia harbors a less-known ecological treasure: the Mongolian steppe. This vast landscape of rolling hills supports millions of Mongolian gazelles, making it a crucial habitat for this iconic species.

Mongolian gazelle

The Mongolian gazelle is a marvel of adaptation. Equipped with slender legs and powerful lungs, these antelopes can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour – a crucial skill when navigating an often unforgiving homeland.

Gazelles migrate in vast herds, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands, in pursuit of fresh grass and to escape harsh conditions. Their collective hooves create a rhythmic drumming that resonates across the expansive wilderness.

In fact, a recent study reveals that Mongolia alone hosts a breathtaking 2.14 million individuals. That’s nearly all the Mongolian gazelles left in the world. It’s a testament to the steppe’s health and a sign of hope in a world where wildlife habitats are shrinking under human pressure.

Mongolian gazelle as invisible ecosystem architects

It’s easy to be awed by the sheer spectacle of these vast herds, but gazelles offer more than just a thrilling sight. They’re a fundamental part of their environment, shaping the very landscape they call home:

Master gardeners

Gazelles graze constantly, their sharp teeth selectively pruning the grassland. This natural landscaping prevents any single plant from taking over and creates a rich tapestry of different vegetation.

Natural fertilizer

As they roam, gazelles deposit droppings across the steppe, enriching the soil and providing nutrients that support plant growth.

Keystone prey

Wolves, snow leopards, and other predators depend on gazelles as a primary food Source. Their presence keeps predator populations in balance, which in turn has ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.

A land worth fighting for

Mongolia’s stewardship of these magnificent animals is an accomplishment we should all celebrate. “With the vast population size and extensive range of gazelles in Mongolia, a broad range of management options remain viable,” noted Dr. Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar (Buuvei), a senior scientist at WCS Mongolia.

But this is also a time for vigilance, not complacency. Even a stronghold like Mongolia faces challenges:

Divided landscapes

As Mongolia develops, new railways, roads, and fences increasingly fragment the once vast and continuous Mongolian steppe. These infrastructures are crucial for economic growth but pose significant risks to wildlife, particularly to the Mongolian gazelles known for their extensive migrations. If migration routes are obstructed, the gazelle herds could become isolated.

Fragmentation of habitats can cause several problems. It may lead to reduced genetic diversity among gazelles. This makes them more vulnerable to predators. They also have limited access to essential resources like food and water.

To avoid these negative outcomes, it is crucial to plan carefully. Implementing wildlife corridors and crossings is vital. These measures help maintain connectivity within their habitats.

Livestock boom

The rising number of domestic livestock in Mongolia competes directly with gazelles for grassland resources. As the availability of grassland diminishes, gazelles face increased competition for food, which is essential for their survival and reproductive success. Moreover, the close proximity between livestock and gazelles heightens the risk of disease transmission.

Diseases can spread quickly through both populations, potentially leading to significant health crises among the gazelles. Managing livestock numbers and implementing health monitoring protocols are vital to mitigate these risks and ensure the coexistence of domestic and wild species.

Invisible threats

The steppe’s ecosystem is under threat from overgrazing, primarily by increasing numbers of livestock. Overgrazing damages the soil structure, reduces its fertility, and leads to erosion, making the land less resilient to environmental stresses. This degradation is particularly concerning given the looming threats of climate change, including more frequent and severe droughts and harsh winters.

Climatic extremes can devastate the Mongolian gazelles, whose migratory patterns and survival strategies are finely tuned to specific environmental conditions. To protect the steppe and its inhabitants, sustainable grazing practices and proactive climate adaptation strategies are necessary to maintain the health of this critical ecosystem.

Government action for Mongolian gazelles

Just as the gazelle’s strength lies in their numbers, the key to their survival lies on the combined efforts of people from all walks of life.

“Globally, these vast herds of Mongolian gazelle that still roam the Mongolian steppe are a unique phenomenon, the sheer size of the herds and their long-distance movements are unique,” ​​said Tserendeleg Dashpurev, Director of Hustai National Park.

Wildlife ecologist Nandintsetseg Dejid of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center (SBiK-F) in Germany has a vital warning: “If the new railroads are fenced without sufficient wildlife crossing structures, the Mongolian gazelle population could collapse and the largest remaining nomadic system on Earth could be in danger.”

It’s a sobering message, but also a call to action. Scientists are actively working on the ground. They aim to understand gazelle migration patterns. This knowledge will help plan developments to avoid severing these critical routes.

Governments need to set clear policies that balance economic progress with the protection of the steppe’s natural heritage. And crucially, everyday people have a role to play through awareness, advocacy, and supporting the work of organizations dedicated to preserving these extraordinary creatures.

The Mongolian gazelle isn’t just another animal. It is living proof that wilderness can still exist on our planet on a large scale, and a reminder of our responsibility to ensure this legacy continues for future generations.

The study is published in the journal Oryx.

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