Decades of Thriving Wildlife Trade Have Decimated Populations

Written by B.Bulgamaa Tuesday, April 21, 2009. The number of animals which can be legally hunted for a special payment in 2010 was approved during cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Over the next year 50 male wild sheep, 200 male wild rocky mountain goats, 50 antelopes, 80 gazelle, 60 gray wolves, 200 birds and 240 saker falcon can legally be hunted or captured.

Those animals will be hunted exclusively by foreign hunters next year who will pay a fee to the government. The price, which is regulated by law, depends on the type of animal hunted.

Hunters from Arabian countries tend to have more interest in taking saker falcon alive and bringing them back to the Middle East. The price for one of these birds is set at US$ 12,000.

According to the census of the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, Mongolia has 12,000-15,000 female wild sheep, 25,000-30,000 female wild goats, one million white gazelle, 50,000 antelopes, 30,000 gray wolves and 6,500 saker falcons.

Four percent of them could be used for hunting, based on management to protect nature and the environment, explained the representatives from the ministry.
2005-2008 state hunting revenues were Tg 13.8 billion, according to information from the ministry.

From 1926-1985 Mongolia was delivering 119 million furs, 13 million kilograms of game meat, 1.5 million tons of elk antlers and trading as many as 3.5 million animals to Russia in a single year.

Since 1990 the border with China has been open and this has caused the wild animal change its roots.
According to the World Bank report named “Silent Steppe”, which was completed in 2004, the population of Mongolia’s subspecies of saiga antelope catastrophically declined from over 5,000 to less than 800, an 85 percent drop, from 2000-2005.

The driving force behind this collapse is the lucrative Chinese medicinal market for saiga horn. Red deer have also declined catastrophically across Mongolia. According to a 1986 government assessment, the population size at that time was approximately 130,000 deer inhabiting 115,000 square km. The most recent population assessment in 2004 showed that only about 8,000 to 10,000 red deer now inhabit Mongolia’s 15 aimags. This is a 92 percent decline in only 18 years. Government figures estimated 50,000 argali in Mongolia in 1975, but only 13,000 to 15,000 in 2001 (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002). This is a 75 percent decline in just 16 years.

Marmot once numbered more than 40 million, dropping to around 20 million by 1990 and were last tallied in 2002 at around 5 million; a decline of 75 percent in only 12 years (Batbold 2002). Finally, saker falcons have started a similarly precipitous decline, dropping from an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs in 1999 to 2,200 pairs, losing 30 percent of the population in just 5 years (Shagdarsuren 2001).

Trade in medicinal products has increased both on the domestic and international market. The primary trading partner is China, but several interviewees reported selling large volumes to Koreans as well.

International buyers are looking primarily for brown bear gall bladder, saiga antelope horns, wolf parts of all types (including tongue, spleen, ankle bones, and teeth), musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) glands, red deer shed and blood antlers, genitals, tails, and fetuses, and snow leopard bones. The domestic medicinal market includes marmot, wolf, corsac fox, badger, sable, brown bear, muskrat, roe deer, musk deer, snow leopard, Pallas’ cat, Daurian hedgehog, Daurian partridge, Altai snowcock, and northern raven. Trade in game meat, other than fish, appears to be limited to the domestic market for the moment. Mongolian gazelle meat was once traded to China, but that trade has apparently stopped with the recent banning of commercial harvests in Mongolia and the closure of game processing plants in China.

Mongolia also supplied large quantities of fish to markets in Russia in the early 1990s, but a change in supply routes and higher prices paid in China have caused trade to shift primarily to China, although trade continues to some degree with Russia.

Even though international game meat trade has slowed or even stopped, the domestic market is thriving and by itself represents a significant and continuing threat to wildlife populations. The domestic market therefore deserves serious management and regulatory attention.
Since 2006 Mongolia’s government has prohibited the hunting of marmots, a ban which continues. The lack of a marmot census has made it impossible to tell, however, whether it has had an effect.

Before prohibiting the hunting of marmot, game meat was available in local markets. Siberian and Altai marmot, Mongolian gazelle, roe deer, moose, Altai snowcock, several species of fish, and, in some areas, Asiatic wild ass were all on offer.

The Ministry of Nature and Environment actively promotes trophy hunting and has set special rates ranging from US$100 for red fox to as much as US$25,000 for Altai argali, according to the report which was made 2004. Reinvesting a percentage of these fees in the conservation of the resource (required by the Law on Reinvestment of Natural Resource Use Fees) has the potential to provide significant funding for wildlife management. However, government finance regulations and a lack of community benefit from trophy hunting prevent this market from achieving the desired outcome of supporting hunting management and local economies. As a result, trophy hunting represents yet another competing use of a dwindling resource.

Although exact amounts are difficult to verify, all indications are that volumes of wildlife passing through these markets have been high. One trader at the Tsaiz market reported total sales in 2004 of 500,000 to 600,000 marmot skins, 50,000 wolf skins, and 50,000 each for red and corsac fox skins.