Mongolian Gazelles Under Threat


2004.04.14
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The endangered Mongolian gazelle, a native of the vast grasslands in China's northeastern border region, has suffered considerable loss of numbers this year following harsh weather and continued loss of habitat, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

A field rescue worker named Batu (Eds: one name) said in an interview that the local population of protected gazelles had faced serious pressures during a particularly hard winter this year.

"The Mongolian gazelles usually come here in the winter," Batu said. "The vegetation is sparse during this time. More than 10 of them died here and quite a few died on their way. Plenty of them also died in the blizzard — ; their remains were buried by the snow and were discovered by the herdsmen."

Batu said the main problem faced by the gazelle was inclement weather, in the form of particularly heavy snowfalls this winter.

"They can't find enough grass to eat because of the heavy snow. It was relatively dry last year and the grass did not grow tall," Batu said. "Once the snow covers the grass, they have nothing to eat. All they can do is to go around looking for food."

The plight of the gazelle appears to be related to government policy, which aims to persuade the last remaining Mongolian herdspeople within its borders to settle down on a single plot of land.

"Due to overgrazing, the farm-raised sheep and cows have more grass to eat while the Mongolian gazelles can't find enough food," Batu said, adding that the gazelle also had natural enemies such as wolves and foxes.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) provided the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve, the area where the problem has been most keenly felt, with an emergency relief fund of U.S. $10,000 to buy foliage for the gazelles.

"Many Mongolian gazelles have perished," Du Yu, who heads the IFAW Mongolian gazelle rescue project, told RFA. "Originally, there were 1,000, and now there are around 500."

Government officials at the reserve cite less cause for alarm, however.

"The situation is okay now," said a deputy administrator at the reserve surnamed Liu. "There isn't any special policy implemented at present. All we do is to distribute the foliage frequently and have people patrol the area, nothing major."

The IFAW-sponsored rescue project appears to have had some effect, however. "We built shelters after we came here," Du said. "We put foliage in three of them, also beside the lake and the water, places where they frequent. There are patrolmen in the reserve. Then, in between, two foliage distributions."

"After we started feeding them, the number of deaths dropped to a low level right away."

He Yong, public relations officer at IFAW's Beijing office, said IFAW was working in partnership with the government reserve, and that the rescue attempt appeared to have worked, for this year at least. "The Mongolian gazelles should be able to survive this freezing cold and snowstorm, recuperate, and return to their spring and summer habitat," he said.

The endangered Mongolian gazelle is a national class-2 protected species in China, although environmentalists suspect it still falls prey to illegal hunting and poaching.

The Mongolian Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve is situated on the Hulunbuir Grasslands in northeastern Inner Mongolia, bordering Russia to the north and the Republic of Mongolia to the south.

The reserve was placed on the international Ramsar Convention list of important wetlands in 2002. It is home to more than 600 species of plants, more than 300 kinds of bird, 35 species of animal, and 30 breeds of fish.

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