Wildlife research expedition in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Description of Wildlife research expedition in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
The fragility of Mongolia's natural environment has long been preserved through traditional practices and beliefs with contemporary challenges often causing these sorts of customs to be reawakened in the face of adversity.
21st century challenges have often been tackled at grass roots level which is why our 10 day Mongolia expedition focuses on conserving the environment and researching protection measures in order to make a difference on the ground, especially safeguarding the future of the indigenous khulan, also known as the Mongolian Wild Ass.
This experience is in alliance with the Association Goviin Khulan NGO (see below). You will gain an understanding and invaluable insight into the true wild Gobi - specifically the ecology of the little visited Dorngobi (east Gobi) region where the AGK undertake conservation techniques based around preserving traditional ways of life which also extends to conserving and safeguarding wildlife and wilderness areas.. Goviin Khulan practice people-centred conservation and during this journey as well as learning more about the wildlife of the Gobi Desert you will meet the local people such as Buddhist monks, small market gardeners and nomadic herders who are partners in conservation.
Anyone partaking in this Gobi Desert expedition will be taught how to use trail cameras and data collection methods as well as gaining insight into the need to protect wild khulans and the techniques required to continue to protect and preserve their natural habitat.
Find out more about this unique Mongolia expedition
The Mongolian Wild Ass is one of five Asian Ass sub-species and the wilds of Mongolia are where the population can be found in its greatest numbers. Mongolia expeditions to preserve the species are extremely important and have been designed and led by biologist Anne-Camille Souris or one of her research partners for nigh on a decade. Anne-Camille is president and research manager of AGK and has been concerned with the protection of wild Mongolian khulan since her first Gobi Desert expedition in 2004.
Thanks to a small group size of no more than six participants every opportunity has been made to reduce negative impacts on both the natural environment and the wildlife of Mongolia.
Association Goviin Khulan will directly benefit from your participation both financially and in the field with funds being used to purchase extra equipment to assist the research team and local conservationists as they conduct further research and produce educational materials.
Finances raised from this Mongolia expedition will also go towards supporting local community projects including the training and employment of local people as tour guides and park rangers.
Finally, all data collected throughout the expedition will go towards the continued preservation and conservation of Mongolian wildlife and natural habitats so participants will be making an actual difference as well as having an extremely unique and worthwhile once in a lifetime adventure.
PlanetAlways a tricky one this. We can promise you the world but how do we prove it? Responsible, sustainable or ethical travel - in recent years, it has developed many labels and is now a widely-used selling tool in the tourism industry. But, what does it mean? Although there is no real clear definition, it has to be more than ensuring that we collect all of our rubbish, asking before taking a photograph or being aware of the cultural norms. That’s what we should be automatically doing anyway.
Below are some of the elements of our responsible travel philosophy for our Gobi Conservation and Research experience where we can show real evidence of our practise. It’s easy to have a negative impact on animals and the environment if we were to approach this trip in a thoughtless manner but we have taken into consideration our impact and have based the trip around a few simple rules including:
Before you start out on the trip, you will have had the opportunity (provided by us) to read up around the Khulan. This means you will have learnt about the animals’ habitats and habits; where they sleep, feed and breed; how the seasons affect their behaviour, and how they interact with other species. This information is enriching in itself, but it is also of practical use as well. It will also help you to be more aware of your impact.
Making a Financial Contribution To Mongolia’s Conservation
Mongolia has snow leopards. It has wild horses. It also has the little known wild ass. Joining this trip you are helping to support a smaller conservation project. Part of your trip cost includes a €500 donation which will help Association Goviin Khulan with their campaigning for local conservation at government level - it’s so important. This financial donation will also help Association Goviin Khulan to conduct new research field trips, buy additional technical equipment for their research team and local partners (park rangers and citizen conservationists who work with them) and print new educational materials.
Impact On Wildlife
It’s easy to have a negative impact on animals and the environment if you approach the task in a thoughtless manner. But you can enjoy an encounter in the wild in an ethical way.
This trip is led by a research associate from the Association Goviin Khulan with whom this trip is being run in alliance with. Knowledge will be at the centre of your experience. This means knowledge not just of the wildlife you will encounter and their natural habitat but also of the possible impact our visit could have. We will follow the following basic rules with the assistance of Association Goviin Khula:
Keeping our distance.
Never feeding wild animals.
Not interfering with their natural behaviour at any time.
Adhering to the principles of ‘leave no trace’, which seek to protect areas of wilderness for the benefit of all.
Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency
We focus solely on Mongolia and over the past 15 years we have seen the impact of the climate emergency on this vast country. Annual precipitation has decreased (the (previously reliable) seasonal rainfall pattern has become erratic) but localised severe weather events have increased. There’s also an increase in desertification and a loss of biodiversity. This is combined with Mongolia’s annual mean air temperature increasing by 2.24°C from 1940 to 2015 – triple the global average.
We are aware that tourism is part of the problem and as a business working in tourism we feel we have a responsibility to help combat problems including those created by tourism itself. We already work responsibly on a local level – we’re a registered Mongolian company and social travel enterprise, focusing on creating positive social change in Mongolia. We believe that travel can and should be a positive experience for both the visitor and for the destination country itself – its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. We can provide evidence of our work. However …
Although we believe travel has to be beneficial to all concerned we also understand that it is not currently beneficial to our planet. But we can’t solve this alone. The problem surrounding climate change can only be solved by working together. This is not about cancelling international travel but it is about travelling better – travelling in a more conscious way. As an industry, we need to come together and act to make our sector more sustainable.
That’s why we have signed up to Tourism Declares, an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organisations and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and taking purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions.
Managing Our Carbon Footprint
It is well documented that the tourism industry is a major contributor to global carbon emissions which are a major part of the climate emergency. As a tourism business – especially one working in Mongolia, a country where a majority of our guests have no option but to fly to – we have a moral responsibility to make sure the way we work is as sustainable as possible. It’s a long road with no definitive answers but below are the achievable steps we are taking to reduce our emissions.
1) We’re creating an environmental management plan and climate action plan with the help of postgraduate students on the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO.
2) We will be working with C-Level to measure our carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is not the answer to fixing the climate emergency. But, offsetting is part of our wider environmental management and climate action plans and helps us to take responsibility for our current carbon footprint. Using C-Level we will be balancing our CO2 emissions by investing in Plan Vivo Certificates – environmental service certificates, each representing the reduction or avoidance of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide. The Mongolian Nomad Project we invest in through our carbon offsetting is of Plan Vivo Standard – based on ethical principles intended to deliver long-term climate, livelihoods and biodiversity benefits.
Because of Mongolia’s geographical location and climate, it faces a strain on its freshwater supply which the impact of tourism will only exacerbate. We’re creating looking at how we can limit our own impact on Mongolia’s future freshwater shortage which looks at the accommodation we use, the way our team uses water as part of each trip and also how we provide drinking water to our guests. Two examples of this are:
1) We do not provide bottled drinking water as apart from in the capital city, there is just no way to recycle the bottles. Instead, we take fresh drinking water from local water supply points. We provide two 20 litre water containers in each tour vehicle and provide a Lifesaver carbon filter or an Adventurer Steripen in each vehicle. In addition, we have formed a partnership with Water-To-Go. Our travellers are now able to purchase a Water-To-Go reusable filtered water bottle and receive a 15% discount. From each purchase an additional 15% is put towards buying Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project - working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management.
2) Also, for a majority of all of our trips we do not use the typical tourist ger camps that often have very bad eco-credentials. Instead, we use a mix of accommodation and use the locally provided town shower houses. This is where a majority of Mongolia's rural population come to shower including the families that will host you on our Gobi Conservation & Research experience. The shower houses are small business enterprises operated for the local communities and a great way to support local, meet the locals and do as the locals do themselves. It also helps us to manage our own environmental footprint.
The disposal of rubbish is a major issue in Mongolia - especially plastic. As part of our Sustainable Tourism Strategy, we are working on limiting our general use of plastic and as part of this, we have created our Mini Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge which we invite our guests to be part of - as well as our team members.
As part of our Responsible Travel ethos, we work with a local Mongolian NGO (Mongolian Quilting Centre) to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project and helps us to cut down on the waste we produce. As part of your Gobi Conservation & Researcg experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.
Also, you can book knowing that we finance our annual community two-day rubbish collection in Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park in Mongolia. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been arranging this since 2014 - even in 2020 despite a lack of income due to the Covid pandemic.
Unlike a majority of the larger tour companies, where small group travel can mean being in a group of up to 12-18 people when we say small group travel this is what we mean. Our group size on this trip has been kept small - a maximum of six. This means that the family experiences during the trip become more personal and authentic for you and more respectful towards the local people you will meet and the local families you stay with. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment.
At the moment our vehicles are driver owned as it gives each driver more flexibility in the low season months. We use Russian 4x4 Furgon vans (diesel & petrol) as these are the most suitable vehicles for handling Mongolia’s rugged terrain. However, we are always looking at ways to manage our overall impact including the impact made by our tour vehicles and this includes providing cycling and trekking experiences as well as using the Trans-Mongolian railway for transport throughout the country. We also have a limited number of departures for each of our itineraries. We also do not concentrate specifically on one area. Mongolia is a country of incredibly diverse yet fragile ecosystems. By limiting our presence in certain areas, we help to preserve and protect and help to avoid the area changing environmentally due to repeated and extended exposure to tourism.
PeopleOur company is not a world or a multi-destination specialist. We concentrate on the country we know, live in and love – Mongolia. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents. That means we’re part of the community that we work to support.
A Fair Deal
As a registered social travel enterprise, we look to make sure we work responsibly within tourism and to make sure our work benefits local projects, people and communities as much as it benefits our guests and us as a business. We’re a little different in we believe everyone is equal. That means our guests are equal to our team who are equal to the Mongolians we work with on a more general scale. Respect is at the core of what we believe in.
We focus on creating local community partnerships that offer long-term support to local people, families and Mongolian projects – encouraging their own sense of enterprise. We also look at ways we can continue to work with each family even when their personal circumstances change. We want to continue strengthening these partnerships whilst making sure that they have a positive impact. As part of our philosophy, we don’t stop working with families just because their circumstances change … instead, we look at alternative ways in which we can work with them.
All of our team are Mongolian (apart from Jess) but we don’t source the ‘best’ guides that work the tourism circuit and that already have guaranteed work with other companies. Instead, we provide free long-term training, development and employment opportunities to Mongolian women that want the opportunity to work in tourism (whether that be for a professional reason, for development of personal skills or for economic empowerment) but that other companies won't take as they don't fit the stereotype. Our female Mongolian trip assistants are dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train and develop and we provide that long-term opportunity.
Volunteering & Charity
The local projects that we actively support are typically grassroots level projects that provide greater opportunities and benefits for local communities within Mongolia. One example is that as part of our free city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city - we take our guests to visit a local project called Nogoon Nuur. We make a donation per person we take to the project which is used by the project for maintenance on their community centre. Another example is our work with the Mongolian Quilting Centre which we pay to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project working with disadvantaged Mongolian women.
Travelling With Respect
Our trips focus on 21st Century Mongolia - yes, you’ll get to experience the traditional way of life but at the same time gain an overview as what it means to be Mongolian in 21st Century Mongolia. The people we work with are ‘real’ people that we form long-term local community partnerships with. They are not tourism professionals. You’ll meet people from Ulaanbaatar, you’ll meet herders, you’ll meet Mongolians that live in the provincial centres as well as the smaller town and rural communities. However, these are real people with real lives to lead and at no point do we ask the families to change their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. If they don’t have a shower, neither will you! (Don’t panic! … see Water in the Environment section!) We ask our guests to try and embrace and enjoy any differences that they come across in Mongolia. Experiencing the differences is all part of any trip and makes it a more authentic and positive holiday for you and a more respectful and enjoyable experience for the locals as well.
An example of our philosophy is that our Gobi Conservation & Research experience takes you into remote areas, through distant villages and farming communities. The Association Goviin Khulan works in tandem with the local people who make their lives in the areas inhabited by the Khulan rather than the locals being displaced from their lands for conservation and tourism purposes. They become ‘citizen conservationists’ for AGK. You can book this trip, ensured that your visit will have a positive impact on their daily lives. Each guest will receive a copy of Anne-Camille’s conservation book The Lost Khulan of The Gobi with its beautiful illustrations by the Mongolian artist Zolbootulguldur O. The funds of this book go back into conservation education carried out by AGK in Mongolia.
In addition, although we sometimes visit areas where tourism has become more concentrated we also offer itineraries that stretch to areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ by other tour companies or the guidebooks. By not focusing on one area, it also means that we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism industry.
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