As climate patterns shift and greater numbers of people move from the rural steppe to the bustling metropolis of Ulaanbataar, life in Mongolia is changing fast. These changes threaten the lifestyle and traditions of nomadic herding people who have lived on the Mongolian steppe for more than 10,000 years.
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about the issues and how we can impact them
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Climate Change Issues
Summers are shorter, which leads to less developed grasslands and the plants that do grow contain fewer nutrients.
Higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and water loss. The stress this causes to the grasslands, results in smaller root systems and less robust plants.
Decreased overall rainfall but … more frequent large rain events. These are shorter in duration but more intense than in the past, which leads to increased run off and loss of water as well as an increase in erosion and soil loss.
Increased winds lead to increased erosion and soil loss
In the winter there is an increase in Dzuds (severe winter events or periods) frequency as well as the severity and duration. Dzuds are harsh peaks in winter weather that cause livestock loss and damage to vegetation. This leads herders to “hedge their bets” and keep more livestock in the hope that an economically viable number will survive until the spring.
Dzuds lead to severe malnutrition in livestock which, when combined with the later development of grasslands which are also low in nutrients, causes additional loss of livestock in the Spring.
With the 1990 collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia moved almost overnight to a market-driven economy. Larger herds lead to changes in pastoral husbandry.
The Cashmere market strengthened, which led to goats being kept as the main livestock species. Goats eat grasses to the roots and cause more damage than the traditional mixed herds of Camel, Horse, Yak, Sheep and Goat.
Cashmere market fluctuations means that herders need to keep more livestock to achieve the same level of income and thereby “ride out” the market downturns.
Market over-reliance on cashmere caused drop in the market of product from other livestock types: Example: camel hair market crash results in camel being slaughtered for meat.
An increase in the black market price paid for wildlife leads to an upturn in poaching, which in turn leads to the apex predators having less wild prey and becoming more inclined to target domestic livestock.
Increased mining jobs lead to herders relying more on cash currency rather than traditional bartering.
Migration from the steppes to the cities for employment results in fewer herders and lose of knowledge and traditional way of life.
- An increase in poaching causes a decrease in the apex predators’ natural prey which, in turn, causes these predators to target domestic livestock.
- An increased loss of livestock to predation causes herders to "hedge their bets" and keep more livestock than the land can naturally handle.
- An increased die-off from Winter Dzuds provides easy prey for the Apex Predators. As they scavenge on dead livestock, they are more likely to target live domestic livestock more intently.
- Larger herds that move less often are a more vulnerable target with a higher successful kill rate by predators
- Increased losses to predators causes more retribution killings, often carried out by trapping and poisoning
- Large scale trapping and poisoning leads to indiscriminate killing of other animals leading to ecological imbalances.
- Large goat herds reduce the carrying capacity of the grasslands as a whole. Other livestock do not disproportionally reduce carrying capacity. Predators are forced to prey on goats since they are plentiful and their very presence lowers populations of all other grazers, wild or domestic.
- Mongolia's Soviet Union influenced Socialist period lead to loss of community and with that the loss of elders’ traditional herding knowledge and evolved traditions for a portion of the herder population.
- In 1990 the Soviet Union collapse, grasslands were opened up to all citizens, some of whom had not been taught or benefitted from traditional sustainable grazing and livestock management practices.
- Loss of collective knowledge to some herders led to improper use of the pasture-lands - no rest or rotation, leading to reduced grassland growth, recovery, and nutritional value.
- Without the traditional migratory knowledge, some herders now move less often and within a smaller geographic area, leading to herder conflict and over-grazing of already stressed pasture. Good pasture-land becomes more rare.
MBDP Climate Change Solutions
While our goals are focused on grassroots efforts and cooperating with other programs we hope through our existence to make people aware of the massive ramifications of climate change.
Education through teaching people about the interconnection of all aspects of the plant.
Education of our herders. Through working with us herders learn of climate change and teach their children.
MBDP Economic Solutions
Through cooperation with the local community and cooperative leaders we connect our project and the placement of Bankhar with existing economic incentives that favor ecologically sustainable practices and still favor economic benefits for the herders themselves.
We ask our herders to join incentive systems that ultimately diversify their income to shift their practices in a direction less deleterious to the ecosystem and more economically and ecologically sustainable.
We offer to facilitate changes in their herding practices to help diversify livestock holdings and decrease number.
We plan to develop specific incentives to our program that the herders can take part in that will diversify their income and decrease reliance on cashmere markets etc. These include wool from dogs as a textile, manufacturing of spiked collars to sell to other herders, etc.
MBDP Cultural Solutions
We work with local community groups and cooperatives in order to chose herders to offer Bankhar. Enhanced community involvement by herders helps usher in other community knowledge that a herder might not have or might not have implemented.
We work with community elders and often chose to place Bankhar with elder respected and awarded herders. These elders then communicate with our other herders in the area. Communication increased cultural information flow and the passing of traditions.
Providing a herder with the traditional tool of a Bankhar Dog means that they are able to manage their herd over a larger area and thereby reduce the intensity with which the grasslands are grazed.
Herders remember to work together once again with their dog companions. This change results in a more attentive herder and a herder more present with sheep ultimately reducing predation as well.
With the help of the Bankhar, a herder is more easily able to move their livestock, resulting in less overgrazing of specific areas.
A return to traditional ways, as is the use of Bankhar, leads to re-adoption of former traditions such as keeping five differing livestock of fewer numbers, greater frequency of pasture rotation, more numerous nomadic relocations, etc.
Pride in ownership of a true Bankhar helps herder feel more important to the community and him/herself.
MBDP Predator Solutions
- Livestock Guardian Dogs are an effective and proven, non-lethal method of direct and indirect predator deterrent.
- Deterring predators, results in fewer livestock losses.
- Fewer losses means that herds can be kept smaller as more are likely to survive.
- Fewer livestock, esp. goats, increased carrying capacity for grasslands and therefore increase wild grazer populations that are the natural prey for area predators.
- Fewer livestock losses also result in less retribution killings and less indiscriminate trapping and poisoning of endangered apex predators such as Snow Leopards, Gobi Bears and Wolves.
- Smaller herds results in less competition for Spring grass, less over-grazing and the ability of grasslands to recover by strengthening their root systems which in turn reduces erosion and slows down desertification.
Herders are caught in an intense spiral of environmental degradation: populations of the native gazelle, the traditional prey of large predators like wolves and snow leopards, are decreasing because of depleted grasslands and habitat destruction. Depopulated antelope mean that large predators searching for food prey on nomadic livestock herds. Nomads are forced to range into mountainous areas at higher altitudes not normally used to graze animals, which put herds in the range of snow leopards and other predators.
Livestock losses to herders from large predators including snow leopards and wolves are serious: families can often lose up to 40% of their annual income as a result. This can create an absolutely untenable situation for herders, which pits them against these apex predators. Nomads must keep their livestock close and in tighter groups than in the past to avoid losing them to predators. Pressure from predators forces nomads to confine livestock in higher density herds, which increases over grazing even more. To protect their herds, nomads kill large predators, contributing to the depletion of these endangered creatures. Between grassland loss, climate change and predator pressure, herders struggle to exist on a daily basis or chose to leave their traditional way of life behind.
This is an important article from BBC News describing the severe results of climate change on the Mongolian ecosystem: