This experience is in alliance with the Association Goviin Khulan NGO (see below). You will gain an understanding and privileged insight into the true wild Gobi - specifically the ecology of the little visited Dorngobi (east Gobi) region. Goviin Khulan practice people-centred conservation and during this journey as well as learning more about the wildlife of the Gobi Desert you will meet the local people such as Buddhist monks, small market gardeners and nomadic herders who are are partners in conservation.
You will be trained to use several kinds of technology such as trail cameras and all data collected during this conservation expedition will be used as part of the conservation program - continuing to protect the endangered Mongolian Khulan/Mongolian Wild Ass and its habitat.
The Mongolian Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) is one of the 5 recognised sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass and represents the largest population of this species in the world. As a result, Mongolia is a very important place for the conservation of this species due to having the densest distribution of Khulan in the world. However, the population of the Mongolian Khulan is at risk due to illegal hunting, habitat fragmentation and competition with domestic livestock to access to natural resources - Khulan numbers have declined significantly. Internationally, the Mongolian Khulan is listed in the Red List of the IUCN as ‘Endangered, and ‘Very Rare’ and ‘Endangered’ in the Mongolian Red Book (Mongolian Red List of Mammals).
This Conservation and Research Expedition has been put together by Anne-Camille Souris - an ethologist and a member of the SSC/IUCN Equid Specialist Group since 2007. As president and research manager of the Association Goviin Khulan, Anne-Camille has been studying the Mongolian Khulan since 2004. She first conducted research on this sub-species in the southwest Gobi during the summer 2004. In 2006 she then started research and conservation work on the populations that occur in the south and southeast Gobi where there was less work towards the conservation of this endangered species. In 2007, she co-founded the Association Goviin Khulan to enhance protection of the endangered Mongolian Khulan. This trip will either be led by Anne-Camille or one of her research associates.
How Will The Conservation And Research Trip Be Of Benefit To Both The Local Community and The Wildlife?
A group size of a maximum of six has been set in order to limit negative impacts on wildlife and its habitat.
A financial donation per person will be made by us to Association Goviin Khulan. This financial donation will help Association Goviin Khulan. to conduct new research field trips, buy additional technical equipment for their research team and local partners (park rangers and citizen conservationists who work with them) and print new educational materials.
It is very important to consider the needs and difficulties of the local population that share the same habitat as the wildlife and to involve the population ensures the long term success of a conservation program. The trip will contribute to community development in the areas where the project is conducted. This includes the diversification of incomes of the communities visited and with whom you stay, training and employment of local guides and rangers to guide you and assist Association Goviin Khulan in collecting data.
Data collected will be used in the continued protection of Gobi wildlife. This range of data will include use of water sources by Mongolian khulans/wild asses and by other species (wild and domestic), watering behaviour of the Mongolian Khulan, nature of interactions between khulans/wild asses, wild and domestic fauna and human activities at and in the surroundings of water sources, illegal activities occurring in our study area and the biodiversity of our study area.
Day 1: Ulaan Baatar (UB): Free City Walking Tour.
Final arrival day into Ulaan Baatar: UB maintains a strong Mongolian identity of its own and has a ‘frontier’ feel and vibrancy. It is a city well-worth exploring as it is home to 45% of Mongolia's population and provides a contrast to the lives of those in rural areas. For those interested, we include a free walking tour to help introduce you to the city.
Days 2-3: Ikh Nart Nature Reserve.
Travel on a local train following the famous Trans-Mongolian train route through the Gobi. Travel south to Ikh Nart Nature Reserve - a grasslands and semi-desert steppe environment established in 1996. It represents one of the last strong-holds for the globally threatened Argali Sheep - the largest mountain sheep in the world (Ovis Ammon). The site is an ‘island’ of rocky terrain and canyons, rising up from the surrounding desert steppe. Willow and elm trees grow among the rocks and ravines.
You will tent camp in the ‘buffer’ zone of the protected area. Ikh Nart is a prime wildlife location - a natural habitat for Siberian Ibex as well as the Argali sheep. It is also a breeding site for one of the world's largest vultures, the Cinereous Vulture - also known as the European Black Vulture. You will spend the second day exploring Ikh Nart on foot with the Association Goviin Khulan researcher and the protected area ranger.
Day 4: Khamariin Khiid Monastery.
Khamaryn Khiid is considered an energy centre known as Shambala created around the cult of a Mongolian monk - Danzan Ravjaa. The monastery was founded in 1820 and was an important cultural and education centre for the Red Hat Buddhist faith until its destruction in 1937 during the political purges. It has since been reconstructed and is a major pilgrimage site for Mongolians.
Day 5: White Canyon - Research and Conservation Area.
Today you will travel further south into the immensity of the Gobi Desert. You will visit and stay as guests at an area of watermelon production. This is quite an amazing place where the local people are fighting to preserve their water source for their smallholdings as well as for the local environment including an area of ‘saxaul’ - an endangered Gobi shrub known in Mongolian as ‘zag’.
Tugii is the manager of this community industry and has worked as a volunteer ranger of Association Goviin Khulan since 2009. Spending time here guided by Tugii will help you to understand about the fight at local level to help protect Mongolia’s environment.
Day 6: Native Mountain - Research and Conservation Area.
Travel to ‘Native Mountain’ and its Buddhist monastery. On this drive we will be changing habitats between desert and semi-desert steppe and it is possible you could observe some species such as black-tailed gazelles, and the Mongolian khulan. In Mongolia, many mountains, rivers and other natural spaces are revered as sacred - either because they are the residing place of a deity or because they are viewed as a deity in themselves. Often, monasteries were built on such sites as is such as the one built at Native Mountain.
The monastery of the site of the ‘Native Mountain’ was destroyed during the 1903’s political purges but since then re-introduction of Buddhism in the 1990’s some of Mongolia’s ruined monasteries and temples have become operational again.
At ‘Native Mountain’ you will meet with the community of monks and you will have the opportunity to discuss with the monks about their involvement in the Association Goviin Khulan conservation program and their actions and motivations towards the protection of the Gobi ecosystem. We also hope to have dinner with the monks or members of the local community.
Day 7: Queen’s Spring - Research and Conservation Area.
In the morning, set trail cameras in the surroundings of the monastery - you will return for these later. After lunch, continue further south again to an area called the Queen’s Spring, which is located roughly about 150 kms from the border with China. En-route, stop at a small village where you will meet with the protected area rangers who cooperate with the Association Goviin Khulan. Naturally, this depends on their availability. Tonight you will camp in the vicinity of the Queen's Spring and where you will be able to observe wildlife and birds in your surroundings.
Day 8: Golden Mountain - Research and Conservation Area.
Travel back to the Queen’s Spring for lunch and then on to Golden Mountain. Officially known as Ergeliin Zuu, this is a protected natural reserve where dinosaur fossils were discovered in the 1920’s by Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions. Gobi fossils tend to be well-preserved, revealing minute details of life during the Late Cretaceous Period – 80 million years ago.You may also observe black-tailed gazelles, Mongolian (white-tailed) gazelles, Mongolian khulan and birds of prey. Part of the day will be spend meeting a local family who work as ‘citizen conservationists for Association Goviin Khulan.
Day 9: Native Mountain - Research and Conservation Area.
In the morning, travel back to the Native Mountain where you will collect the trail cameras and other additional data. Tonight, you will have dinner in the monastery at Native Mountain. In the early morning, you may join the prayers and chanting of the Buddhist monks who live in this monastery. A unique way to finish in this beautiful and peaceful environment.
Day 10: Sainshand.
Travel to Sainshand - the provincial capital of Mongolia’s eastern Gobi and a major stop on the Trans Mongolian. The desert landscapes will again change and you could again observe wildlife native to the Gobi - especially during our picnic lunch. In the evening, enjoy a good hot shower and dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 11: Ulaanbaatar.
An early start for the transfer back to Ulaan Baatar (we aim to have you back in the city by early afternoon if not before). Having returned to the city, this is your own time but you will be having dinner with Anne-Camille or the research associate to talk about the photos and information collected during the expedition.
Days 12-13 - Optional Extension - Khustain Nuruu National Park.
A short transfer to Khustain Nuruu National Park - noted for its successful reintroduction of the endemic Przewalski horse (Equus przewalskii) – the only wild horse to survive in modern times and known as Takhi in Mongolian.
The Mongolian Government declared Khustain National Park as a Specially Protected Area in 1993, one year after the initiation of the reintroduction of Takhi. Khustain Nuruu National Park is part of UNESCO's 'Man and the Biosphere' reserves. The Khustain National Park Trust deals with the management of the national park contracting with Mongolia’s Ministry of Nature and Environment and Khustain is now run as an NGO.
Khustain is one of Mongolia’s conservation success stories and these two extension days in the company of one of the Association Goviin Khulan research associates will provide you with a better understanding of the biodiversity of Khustain - its people, landscapes and the distribution density and composition of wildlife in the area. There will be opportunity to hike within the national park (this may prove to be a day-hike).
Takhi’s stay in harem groups with a strict hierarchy, dependent on the age and relationship of the individual horses. In scientific terms, the Takhi is a distinct species due to its 66-chromosome count; all other horses have 64 chromosomes.
You will return to UB the early evening of Day Thirteen.
For all of our small group trips I offer a sliding price scale. I appreciate your holiday funds are precious and so the more individual travellers that book so the price comes down and everyone benefits.
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