- "Near threatened" in the IUCN Red List and "Endangered" in the Mongolian Red List of Mammals
- Appendix I of the CITES
- Appendix II of the CMS
The Mongolian khulan, also known as the Mongolian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus hemionus) is one of the 5 recognized sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass and currently does represent the largest population of the Asiatic Wild Ass in the world. The Mongolian Khulan mainly live in south of Mongolia in the Gobi desert area, with small populations in north of China. Mongolia represents a very important place for conservation of the Asiatic Wild Ass.
The Asiatic Wild Ass belongs to the Equids, like horses, donkeys, zebras, Przewalski's horses, African Wild Ass, but is a species on its own.
The former range of the Asiatic wild ass between the seventeenth and the middle of the nineteenth century encompassed the greater part of Mongolia, small areas of Siberia and Manchuria, the western part of Inner Mongolia and the northern part of Xinjiang. Southern Mongolia currently holds the largest population of Asiatic wild ass in the world, representing almost 80% of the global population (Feh et al. 2002). Therefore, Mongolia is a very important stronghold of the Mongolian wild ass.
The population of the Mongolian khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) was estimated in 1997 at about 43,165 individuals (Feh et al. 2001, Reading et al. 2001). Numbers have declined significantly to be later estimated in 2003 at 18,411 +/- 898 in four areas (Lkhagvasuren 2007). Recently, the population has been estimated to about 40,000 individuals, meaning that the population seems to be now stable. However, this population is at risk due to illegal hunting and fragmentation of its habitat due to an increasing mining activity in the Gobi Desert.
In the Gobi, 99% of the habitat is used as livestock pasture. In such The Mongolian khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) was estimated in 1997 at about 43,165 individuals (Feh et al. 2001, Reading et al. 2001). Numbers have declined significantly to be later estimated in 2003 at 18,411 +/- 898 in four areas (Lkhagvasuren 2007). Recently, the habitats long-distance transhumance is a necessity for sustainable pastoralism. Thus, semi-nomadic herders need access to large tracts of land, including protected areas. Moreover, political changes in the early 1990’s forced urban populations to return to nomadic land use, resulting in a sharp increase in human and livestock numbers in many rural areas.
Water in the Gobi desert area is a critical resource for humans, livestock production and influence wildlife habitat, but is very rare and very scarce. In such area, access to water appears to be one key for the conservation of wild Equids, and if access to water can be secured it can ensures optimal nutritional care of their offspring without huge energy demands on the mother pre and post partum.
Most water for human and livestock must be obtained from small and hand drawn wells. Numerous mechanical wells were built during the collective era, but most of them have fallen into disrepair since 1990. Because of this lack of wells, herders and their livestock are forced to use open water points also used by wildlife. Khulan do not avoid wells or human settlements, but they preferentially drink at open water points or digging potholes they made in dry river beds or dry water points (Kaczensky et al., 2006, and Anne-Camille Souris, observations made in 2008 and 2009). Wells allow human presence in areas where there is little surface of water. But if there is an open water source nearby, then, herders will preferentially use it compare to wells.
Mongolia’s rural economy is mostly based on livestock, thus wild ungulates have to co-exist with semi-nomadic pastoralists.
From the interviews Anne-Camille Souris and her team conducted in 2006, 2008 and 2009 it appears that traditionally Mongolian people view the Khulan as an honored animal in Mongolian culture. Most of local people and herders interviewed think that the Khulan should be protected from extinction.
But, massive livestock losses during the recent severe winters have led to increase poaching of Khulan for meat. From a nationwide survey, the illegal trade of Khulan was estimated at about 3,000 individuals annually (Wingard and Zahler, 2006).
From other researchers and teams (see all references here) and from research our team did conduct in the south and south-east Gobi (Ömnögobi aimag and Dornogobi aimag) in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and from interviews of the local population and specialists working in the South Gobi Strictly Protected Areas that we conducted at the same time, main threats affecting the Mongolian Khulan's survival are:
-habitat fragmention with resources extraction (copper, gold, coal...) and the building of numerous roads and some railways joining mines to the Chinese border;
-an increasing illegal hunting of Khulan and an increasing illegal trade of Khulan meat with also use of this sub-species in traditionnal medecine and other purpose;
-and a competition with livestock to access to natural ressources. From our observations it appears that when domestic livestock stays at a water source, wild khulans wait in the surrounding that domestic animals leave it, and then, go to drink at the water point.
The Mongolian khulan is locally known for its ability to dig holes at dry water points and river beds to access to underground water, then creating some kind of "wells" or "watering holes" from which they can drink. This very specific behavior is mostly observed during the dry periods of the year where in the Gobi Desert replenishment of water points depends on rainfall. In order to adapt to the dry periods and the lack of open water points and sources in the Gobi Desert, the Mongolian khulan has adapted and developped this very specific behavior and dig holes of different sizes and depth to access to water.
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