Dr. Ts.Tserendulam: Pastureland degradation concerns botanists the most

  • By chagy5
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  • 2024-05-28
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Dr. Ts.Tserendulam: Pastureland degradation concerns botanists the most

We interviewed an experienced botanist, Dr. Ts.Tserendulam, who is currently working in the Hustai National Park (HNP). HNP was the first park to be managed by a non-governmental organization specializing in nature and environmental conservation. The park is famous for its operation towards re-introducing takhi (Przewalski’s horse), and well-known for welcoming both foreign and domestic tourists to show the wild life. Let’s dive into our talk about the park, and her job. We hope you enjoy the conversation.


Why did you decide to pursue your profession? 


I started studying biology in the seventh grade. My teacher told my classmates to study at least two subjects. Biology was the subject which many had not chosen to study. I enjoyed reading books by myself, so I was lucky enough to win competitions and come to the capital city, where I visited the National University of Mongolia. Then I promised myself to study at this university. Luckily, after completing my high school, I got the chance to study biology, which I was keen on, in the university. I worked hard in my freshman year and got a scholarship. I graduated from that university with the understanding that I should study harder in the future.

My profession studies the nature and processes of life. It is a great thing to understand the activities of all kinds of living things, and to explore if you don’t understand it. Currently, I am working in training and research in HNP, which is one of the 119 Specially Protected Areas in Mongolia. The purpose of each protected area is different depending on the terrain and flora and fauna. HNP is a protected area that was originally established for the reintroduction of takhi. The first takhis came to Mongolia from Europe in 1992. Many scientists agreed that the only way to save this animal, which has become accustomed to the mild and warm climate, and has been in human hands for 100 years is to raise it naturally. Many kind people have contributed to raising this animal because the last time it was seen in nature was in Mongolia. The reason why takhi must be saved is because human actions have killed many animals that could have existed on earth. Perhaps, all this can be the cause of many problems such as global warming and environmental degradation. On the other hand, very few extinct animals have been reintroduced in nature. If we don’t save it now, we won’t ever be able to. Maybe the next generations will be sitting and looking at the pictures of takhi, like in the book “The Tragedy of Wild Animals”.

Currently, I am mainly researching the processes of pastureland or natural plant communities, the effects of grazing on them, and the effects of weather. The aim is to find out why the natural cycle of our country’s ecosystem, which has been stable for many years, has been lost, and the mechanism has gone wrong in some places. Minerals, organic matter, and water all circulate in nature to a certain extent. Being able to recognize and explore all of this is, on the one hand, knowledge, and on the other hand, the awareness that we need to coexist with nature, and the work to put it into action.


What makes HNP different from other specially protected areas?


As of 2019, there are 119 Specially Protected Areas. Specially protected areas have four different protection modes. The most strictly protected one is Sanctuary. It can only be operated for research purposes. All kinds of hunting are prohibited, carrying guns, and bringing dogs are forbidden as well. Mongolians have a beautiful tradition of loving nature, but the majority of Mongolians today have a very poor education and understanding of nature conservation. HNP is special because of the reintroduction of takhi. Currently, there are three places or organizations which are introducing takhi in Mongolia. Since the park is close to Ulaanbaatar City, it is convenient for hikers and tourists to visit. It is a place where people can come with their family and enjoy the beauty of nature and see takhi, deer, marmots, and many kinds of birds.


HNP operates in the development of eco-friendly tourism, the preservation of historical and cultural monuments, and the development of science-based conservation management. What kind of activities are planned for this year?


Thank you for understanding our activities and asking this question. Over the past 32 years, we have focused on the reintroduction of takhi. In order to do this, we have done many effective works not only to protect the ecosystem as a whole, but also to support the livelihood of the people around the area. For example, with the development of tourism based on local people, the number of families receiving tourists has increased to 10, and each family earns approximately 15 million MNT to 20 million MNT per year. We also provide large loans of approximately 300 million MNT to 400 million MNT every two years, and small and medium loans of 100 million MNT annually to support local businesses. Since the loan interest rate is very low, it is very flexible. In this way, we can reach a better level of understanding with the local people. Our main requirement is to keep livestock suitable for grazing capacity and to keep them from entering protected areas.

For more than 30 years, the wildlife has been counted every two weeks, plant monitoring studies have been done regularly, and a zoologist and a botanist have been working separately on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, most publicly funded protection administrations have only one specialist in charge of training and research.

Also, our biologists conduct joint research with professional organizations. For example, water, climate, small rodents, forest insects, forest regeneration, lichens, mosses, mushrooms, soil heat transfer status, pasture capacity, vegetation map, takhi diseases, ticks, pasture regeneration, and soil research are done jointly with both domestic and foreign universities as well as institutions. At the end of each year, the results of our research are discussed at the academic council. Moreover, things to be done in next research, considerations, and protection management are discussed with scientists from many fields. Now, this council has expanded to become the academic council of takhi, and all people or organizations who want to introduce takhi to Mongolia come together to discuss issues.

This year, we are focusing on organizing more field training. More comprehensive training programs on field observation research and the importance of protected areas are being implemented in cooperation with international and domestic universities and schools. By  working towards children in this way, we hope that in the future, people’s attitude will change.


When we talk about HNP, takhi is the first thing that comes to mind. What are the challenges after the reintroduction of takhi?


Exactly, the only reason why we wanted to protect this place was because of that animal. Currently, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the only place where the takhi is believed to be introduced is here. Only three countries in the world - Mongolia, China, and Russia - are implementing seven projects to introduce takhi or create conditions for them to exist wildly on their own. It is believed that only HNP has successfully domesticated. In other words, there is takhi only in Mongolia. It is also said that other projects are being implemented or have not yet reached outcomes. If there is no takhi in Mongolia, it means that it will no longer exist. Therefore, we have a great responsibility.

HNP has an area of ​​50,000 hectares, which is a relatively small area. Existing in the central region with a large number of livestock becomes a problem of insufficient grazing capacity. Even though it is illegal to enter livestock into the protected area, this violation is repeated frequently. This is the cause of conflict. Now wild animals are living only in protected areas in Mongolia. All other areas are full of livestock or mining industry. In the constitution of Mongolia, it says not only livestock are protected, but also forests, animals and plants should be protected by the state.


I heard that a webinar on “HNP: Managing Biodiversity in the Home of Mongolia’s Native Horses” is planned to be held from July 29 to August 11. Can you give our readers more information about it?


We organize a variety of summer workshops to share best practices in relatively well-implemented protected area operations. We are interested in collaborating on the courses as much as possible. This course is a program being organized by The American Center for Mongolian Studies and being carried out in cooperation with us. It is a conservation education program where we generously share the knowledge and experience we have gained so far.


It is said that sanctuaries have rules against flying drones, and driving loud motorcycles. What are the rules for foreign and domestic travelers visiting your complex?


A natural park is an area under special protection of the state that has relatively preserved its natural appearance and is important for history, culture, science, cognition, and ecological education. According to the legal frameworks, such a place is called a complex. These are specified in the Law on Protected Areas.

The rule that we pay special attention to is that when traveling as a tourist, we warn you not to kill animals in the complex, not to go with a gun, and if you are driving a car, not to make a new road or go off the road. Also, do not litter, make loud noises, and take dogs with you, and be kind to wildlife. These rules are followed to prevent the spread of disease between wild and domestic animals, and to prevent dogs from killing wild animals. Moreover, every time a new road is made, the grassland plants are disturbed. Unfortunately, we currently have no paved roads, so people travel on dirt roads to see the animals. Due to rain and snow water, the roads are damaged a lot. In this case, measures are taken to prevent access to the protected area. Therefore, we recommend our travelers to come after being aware of the weather.


Do people who visit the park conduct any harmful activities? If so, what do you want to say to them?


It is common for tourists to build a new road, dance with loud music, leave trash, and enter without a ticket. As of now, our ticket price is 5,000 MNT. This money is a small percentage of the money spent on the activities for the rangers, such as gasoline for motorcycles, binoculars, and their salaries. We are one of the few NGOs that do not receive government subsidies. If you are entering a protected area, please understand that this nature, flora and fauna should be preserved as it is for your children and future generations. Many people who come to our place are amazed and moved when they see many animals in nature living freely and peacefully. We are happy to see it. From the moment you enter the protected area, you are a guest visiting the home of these animals. I want to tell you please do not bother the owners.


As a researcher, what problems do you think must be solved in your field?


For botanists, pastureland degradation is the biggest concern. Nowadays, we cannot talk about sustainability when the livestock population has grown too much. If we continue like this, there is only one way that is to wait and see how we destroy all our pastures and livestock. On the other hand, we can save our traditional nomadic life by having the animal husbandry that is suitable for capacity. Herders are people who depend on pasture, and lately they seem to have forgotten this and start to think that they depend only on livestock. That’s why they are herding even to the point of degradation. Herders will be able to sustain their livelihood for many years by keeping grass fresh and water clear. In addition, it would be great if the source of their income are not only from meat, but from other products. In this way, they will get high benefits from few livestock. I wish every herder to be an economist and a conservationist. Moreover, most of the problems we face are due to unawareness. Therefore, it is crucial to promote nature conservation and understand its importance.


People’s attitudes are changing a lot. Is it eco-friendly, must be the first question to be asked when making a choice. Do you feel this way?


Yes, the attitude of young people is getting better. That’s why we like to teach children. Businesses based on protected areas have increased in recent years. For example, products made by people living in protected areas (Environmental Zone) are highly valued. Those people have the right to write on their labels that a certain percentage will be spent on conservation. Wool, cashmere and felt products are sold more in foreign countries. In our protected area, local people’s products are sold. We have full potential to achieve good things by using nature conservation. I want more people to understand its importance. Eco-friendly and organic products are available at the cheapest prices in Mongolia.