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          International Project for the Protection of the Gobi Bear in Mongolia   

- Establishing a Protection and Information Centre in the
Trans-Altai Gobi Desert-

The Gobi bear is one of the rarest species on earth and lives in the unique landscape of the Transaltai-Gobi Desert in Mongolia.  

It is currently threatened with extinction!  

We will change that!  

Will you be the one to help us?    

Donation account:  
Recipient: Landesbund für Vogelschutz e.V (LBV)

Keyword: Gobi Bear
Bank Branch: Sparkasse Mittelfranken Sued
Bank Code: 764 500 00
Bank Account Number:: 240 011 833

IBAN: DE47764500000240011833

Oct 14, 2009 - Workshop in the Gobi Desert with almost 50 participants  
In the beginning of the second expedition experts of both the Gobi Bear and the desert area took part in a workshop in the Trans-Altai Gobi Desert. The information that was discussed at this meeting is available at "Expedition 2009"

Aug 11, 2009 - Second Gobi Bear Expedition will begin  
The expedition members will leave the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, on August 17th.

June 08, 2009 - Second Gobi Bear Expedition will start in August  
The second Gobi bear expedition to Trans-Altai Gobi will start in the middle of August. Preparations are being made in Ulaanbaatar. This year we will not travel to the Tsagaan Bogd region, instead we have chosen a more central location. Once there we plan to bring together the main decision-makers of the region in order to discuss what concrete steps are to be taken in the next few years. We will also try to obtain all required licences.   This will lay the foundations for the establishment of the Gobi Bear Centre and subsequently the construction work will begin.   We still need your support to proceed!

Aug 08, 2008: First Gobi Bear Expedition a complete success  
The objective of the expedition - to create the basis for a Gobi bear protection and information centre - was successfully achieved. Furthermore, important ecological studies, which hadn’t been conducted to such an extent in the investigation area before, were carried out.   Locally there was always great feedback on the project. Due to the expedition, which was initiated by the National University of Mongolia and the Bavarian Society for the Protection of Birds (LBV), an important basis for further activities could be established. The cooperation of a foreign NGO and authorities from Mongolia’s capital especially affected the region. For instance higher priority was given to further planned activities and their acceptance was substantially increased.   In order to consolidate this foundation, a master’s thesis will be written, creating a detailed concept for the region Tsagaan Bogd. Furthermore, the responsible ministry is to be persuaded to create 2-3 secure jobs in the region. This intent is highly appreciated by the local population because presently one ranger alone has to control the whole region.   The setup of the centre and the expansion of already existing infrastructure will however depend on the availability of financial means in future. It would be desirable to attract prospective sponsors in Europe (e.g. zoological societies or foundations) for the project.

July 16, 2008 - German-Mongolian Gobi Bear Expedition 2008 starts!  
Within the next few days, an international expedition to Trans-Altai Gobi, which is a region in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, will begin. The expedition team of 15 people consists of German and Mongolian zoologists, film-makers, photographers, student assistants and drivers. The expedition is associated with a project for the protection of the Gobi bear, which is supported by the Bavarian Society for the Protection of Birds (LBV).  

Gobi bear is one of the rarest and most threatened species on earth. It lives in isolation in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. A protection and information centre is now to be built which can sustainably safeguard the existence of this little-explored species. A group of researchers will leave the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, on Friday, July 18th to prepare the expedition to Trans-Altai Gobi. More than 1000 km of arduous desert-tracks lie ahead of them until they reach the range of the Gobi bear. The second group of researchers will follow them on Monday, July 21st. After a four-day drive, both groups will meet and begin their work. The biological researchers will be accompanied by a film crew and a group of nature photographers from Germany as well as by a Mongolian journalist. Leader of the expedition is Prof. Dr. Ravchig Samjaa, professor for zoology and initiator of the project. The expedition will be accompanied by biologist Ralf Hotzy from the Bavarian Society for the Protection of Birds (LBV). The LBV is an association for the protection of endangered species and biotopes and has its head office in Hilpoltstein, Germany. Mr. Hotzy has raised the financial means necessary for this joint venture by the National University of Mongolia and the LBV. “We would like to thank all donators and sponsors for supporting this project, which is quite an unusual one for the LBV” Mr. Hotzy said shortly before his departure to Mongolia. “We will try to develop a sustainable concept for the protection of the Gobi bear in this remote area. We want to protect the Trans-Altai Gobi as a whole, which is still a primordial landscape”. When the expedition is over, it is planned that a centre will be built in the region. In the centre all efforts for the protection of the Gobi bear will be coordinated. It will also help to regulate the increasing tourism to the region. Furthermore, it will contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity by dealing with the increasing land-use pressure on the region (e.g. illegal hunting). “The project is supposed to make an impact on the spot. Therefore it is very important to keep the local inhabitants informed and integrate them into the project”, Mr. Hotzy explains.

The Gobi bear is one of the rarest species on earth. Only little is known about its behaviour and its habitat. It seems to be a vegetarian and it is the only brown bear to live in a desert. It occurs in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, a region which seems to be hostile to animals and plants.   Although its habitat seems to be far off of any civilisation, the Gobi bear is strongly influenced by human interference. The population only consists of few individuals and is threatened with extinction.   We now want to launch a project in order to protect this extremely rare species and to ensure its survival.  First we will start an expedition, where specialists from the University of Ulaanbaatar and from Europe will participate. They will analyse the possibilities of establishing a protection programme. The expedition took place in 2008.   The goal is to build up a permanent biological station. From there, research on and efforts for the protection of the Gobi bear are supposed to be coordinated. The project especially aims to work closely with the local population and create an awareness of the Gobi bear in Mongolia.

Tsagaan Bogd mountains in the Gobi Desert

The Gobi bear Ursus gobiensis SOKOLOV et ORLOV (1992) was only recently discovered to be a separate species from the brown bear a few years ago. Only very little is known about this animal. The Gobi bear is related to the brown bear but is considerably smaller in size and it has a brighter coat than its relative. It is has a less robust frame than a brown bear and its limbs are longer so that it can move more quickly and is more agile.  

The research history concerning the Gobi bear is remarkable. In 1900 its existence was proven for the first time. Before that time a legend about a human animal (‘Khun Guruus’ in Mongolian) - so to speak the Mongolian Abominable Snowman - was told. The legend was about an anthropoid animal which lived isolated in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia. Once in a while tracks were found which were interpreted to be human tracks.   Another forty years passed until the Russian botanists Junatov and Murzajew encountered a living bear for the first time during a botanical expedition.  

Murzajew wrote:   “It was only on August 4, 1943, that we were able to observe this rare animal. The territory of the bear is very small and it could survive in xeric and rough landscapes. As the discovery of the bear in the Gobi Desert is of particular interest, I will now give some excerpts of my field diary: Today we finally have encountered a Gobi bear…in the northern foothills of Cagan-Bogdo in a dry and wide Sajr. It moved without haste on the bottom of the valley. Its coat was of a dark brown colour, with some strands of longer and brighter fur hanging down after moulting. The bear sniffed at something, it was obviously looking for food.”  

Until today Gobi bears have only rarely been observed and only few photographs or films exist. In 2004 the bear was filmed by an automatic camera. Best proof for its existence was given by an American geneticist in the 1980s. He was able to obtain hairs from feeding grounds after laying out wires. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to directly observe the animals. Genetic examinations however gave evidence that the Gobi bear is a species of its own. Thirteen different individuals were identified without any doubt.   Only little is known about the biology of Gobi bears. It is uncertain whether they are diurnal or nocturnal, where they hibernate, if they live in groups or if they are loners. There exists even disagreement concerning their diet. Russian zoologists reckon them to be carnivores which mainly feed on pikas (related to rabbits). Mongolian scientists however think that they are herbivores and nourish on bajuun-roots (dwarf rhubarb; Rheum nanum) during spring and on berries and other plants during the rest of the year. Possibly the truth lies somewhere in between.     

The Habitat…

The habitat of the Gobi bear is unusual and unique. Usually, brown bears are found in large woodlands and not in remote areas of the Trans-Altai Gobi in south-western Mongolia, close to the Chinese border.   The Trans-Altai Gobi is located in the south of the Mongolian-Altai and Gobi-Altai Mountains. It forms the most western branch of the desert Gobi. In the south, on Chinese territory, the region is surrounded by the Tien Shan mountain range. The landscape is very craggy: it is characterized by plains, hills and mountains. The mountains are very desolate and bald; they are structured by dry gorges. Desert and semi-desert vegetation types predominate and the vegetation is scarce. Lush green can only be found in the surroundings of oases. The climate is very dry and continental, which results in extreme differences in temperatures not only throughout a day but also throughout a year.   

Due to its aridity and barren landscape the region is nearly deserted. Not even goats, which have very modest requirements, find enough food to survive. Some oases and their surroundings are the only inhabited places. According to a theory of Russian scientists the Gobi bear can be seen as a boreal relict. During the boreal, living conditions varied completely in the Gobi desert. Wide-ranging forests - similar to forests in the Siberian and Northern Mongolian taiga – predominated and its climate was warmer and moister.  

The Gobi bear only exists in three smaller mountain ranges which are known as Tsagaan Bogd Uul. Its main habitat is located in the surroundings of the oases Baruun Tooroi and Shar Khulsny Bulag. The total area of its current habitat is estimated to be only 10,000 to 15,000 square kilometres.   The last wild camels on earth also live in this region. They are the ancestors of our domesticated camels, which are widely spread and which have been domesticated for centuries. Wild camels are also severely threatened. It was in June 2002 that a stock breeder was sentenced because he had killed a wild camel. The local inhabitants also need to be increasingly informed about this rare species in order to substantially preserve it.

  dwarf rhubarb, a relative of our cultivated rhubarb Photo: Hotzy

The population of the Gobi bear is estimated to amount to only 30 to 60 individuals. Its population size is therefore critical and the species is on the brink of extinction. Although cubs have been proven to exist, their very limited habitat seems to deter the bears’ expansion. A substantial prerequisite for its survival is a preferably undisturbed habitat which enables the bears to live their secluded way of life, far off any semblance of civilization. Their remaining habitats however are influenced by human activities. From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s 11 bears were killed. Seven bears were hunted und killed by border guards or members of geological expeditions. The region had been unsettled by humans for thousands of years, so that the Gobi bear was undisturbed. Another hazard originates from increasing desertification due to global climate change. It has a strong impact on these already extreme regions. As a consequence of diminishing food resources, the animals are forced to migrate farther to find enough to eat. This certainly leads to further losses.

The rural population of the adjacent regions is completely ignorant of the Gobi bear. For this reason, the people cannot contribute to the preservation of the Gobi bear, although they are usually very open towards the protection of species.

Another chance of survival for the Gobi bear is the assumption that there existed additional populations in the north of its current range until the 19th century. The bears however were driven away due to increasing human settlement. Humans and bears competed for the watering holes indispensable to life. As soon as humans had occupied a watering hole, the bears had no chance to survive.

Sedated Gobi bear  
The bear on the picture is not dead but it has been sedated for scientific purposes. 

Photo: National University, Ulaanbaatar

The 2008’s expedition made it obvious that action urgently needs to be taken for the protection of the Gobi bear. We were able to find fresh traces – proving that the bear still exists in the Trans-Altai Gobi. Furthermore we experienced a high degree of acceptance by local inhabitants and decision-makers in Mongolia. These are important prerequisites for setting up a centre in order to contribute to the survival of the Gobi bear.  
It is now important keep the wheels in motion. Public authorities and the administration of the nature reserve have promised to support us. They have offered us a building for the planned station.   Furnishings and equipment of the station however cannot be financed by their own funds.

We do not only want to offer our financial support but also our know-how in how to manage biodiversity.   Modern means of communication, furnishings crucial for survival in the desert and - above all - technical equipment are necessary to run the station.

We would greatly appreciate if you supported this important conservation project!

A project of the National University of Mongolia (NUM) and of the Bavarian Society for the Protection of Birds (LBV) - an association for the protection of endangered species and biotopes