Australian kangaroo experts sought for Mongolian project
The Mongolian gazelle – at risk from poachers with semi-automatic weapons – has a new set of allies in the form of Australian kangaroo researchers.
UQ researchers Professor Gordon Grigg and Dr Tony Pople are among five Australian experts in kangaroo harvesting and management who are sharing their knowledge in a push to conserve the gazelle species.
“The Mongolian Gazelle is one of the last large migratory ungulates, living on Mongolia`s Eastern Steppes, one of the world`s largest intact grasslands,” Professor Grigg said.
“A combination of subsistence use and illegal poaching for `quick and dirty` sale across the borders to China and Russia are causing a decline in gazelles.
“We were told that much of the illegal `harvest` is taken with AK-47 assault rifles and Kalashnikov submachine guns, and that the poachers are not necessarily Mongolians.
“The undressed carcasses, frozen by night time winter conditions, are sold for $4-5 each, with much waste because of the unsatisfactory handling.
“In contrast, properly field-dressed carcasses could sell in Mongolia`s capital, Ulanbaatar for $30-$35, so the country is missing out both financially and in conservation terms.
“There is plenty of legislation. The thinking is that if people in control can ensure compliance with the legislation, there will be a better future for the species.”
An American non-Government organisation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, approached the Australians to discuss the situation first hand at a workshop on gazelle harvesting and conservation in Ulanbaatar sponsored by the Society.
“The Society`s idea was to implement a regulated, hygienically conducted and sustainable harvest, increasing the economic value of gazelles locally to provide a stimulus for their conservation,” Professor Grigg said. “The Society looked towards Australia, with our good track record in managing a sustainable kangaroo harvest, as a source of expertise.”
Delegation members also included Dr Paul Hopwood from The University of Sydney`s School of Veterinary Science and Dr Matt Draisma, a retired veterinarian and member of the Australian Deerhunters Association, both experts on hygienic field slaughter and dressing of game, and meat handling and storage.
Dr Pople and Professor Grigg were selected for their expertise in population monitoring and quota setting and because of their long term advocacy for achieving conservation objectives through the sustainable use of wildlife.
Professor Grigg said that, as the conference presentation unfolded, it became clear that any harvest at this stage would be premature.
“There was little information on total Mongolian gazelle population numbers,” he said, “but what there was (from Kirk Olson, a American PhD student from Massachusetts) suggested that the population was declining. Further, the present poaching plus subsistence use by herders was already larger than the six percent harvest suggested by population modelling to be `safe` .
“Accordingly the Australian contingent recommended that there be no harvest for the time being, that poaching should be brought under control, and that a good monitoring program be developed and introduced, preferably by aerial survey.”
Dr Pople and Professor Grigg, who are involved with one of the world`s longest running aerial fauna surveys, of kangaroos in the South Australian arid pastoral zone, have offered to assist with the aerial survey.
“Once the surveys show an increasing gazelle population, a cautious harvest could be implemented, `value added` by using best practice in field harvesting and dressing and transport,” Professor Grigg said.
After the conference the Australians spent several days on a field study tour on the Western Steppes, observing the lifestyle and grazing management practiced by the nomadic herdspeople.
They met nomadic herdspeople of sheep and goats and stayed in gers or yurts, tents made of felt and canvas on a wooden frame, the traditional homes to half of the country`s 2.4 million population. Several families were on the move from summer to winter pastures, with their possessions, including television satellite dishes, piled high on carts.
The Australians sampled traditional Mongolian cuisine, including yak cheese and butter, horse intestine dumplings and fermented mare`s milk.
Dr Pople said visitors to Mongolia should be aware that the Mongolian word for “vodka” was perilously similar to the word for “cow dung”.
Additionally, Dr Pople and Professor Grigg are claiming to have made the first Australian ascents of three apparently un-named 2800 metre peaks in the Tarvagatain Nuruu range in western Mongolia, near the village of Tariat.