International Gobi Bear Conservation & Management Workshop

International Gobi Bear Conservation & Management Workshop

2-3 November 2004

Presented by the Ministry of Nature and Environment, UNDP/GEF Great Gobi Project, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, with participation by IBA and Bear Specialist Group members.

Workshop Recommendations

The Gobi bear is a critically endangered part of Mongolia’s biodiversity. There may be as few as 20-25 bears remaining in the wild, all of them in the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area. Because of the critical nature of the situation, an international workshop was held in Ulaanbaatar on November 2-3, 2004. This two-day workshop was convened to develop a plan and set of activities that can be implemented to save the Gobi bear. A total of 75 participants were involved in the workshop, including 10 international experts, national experts, Ministry of Nature and Environment personnel, NGOs, park staff, and local environmental specialists. Minister Barsbold of the Ministry of Nature and Environment opened the workshop and urged participants to develop specific recommendations that could be enacted by the Government of Mongolia to conserve the Gobi bear.

Immediate workshop recommendations are as follows:

  1. Continue and improve existing supplementary feeding efforts, including improving nutritional standards for pellet feed and increasing the number of feeding stations, sites, and times of year (spring and if necessary fall)  for supplementary feeding.
  2. Determine the status, distribution, movements, habitat use, feeding ecology, and causes of mortality of remaining bears through a focused research effort using observations, transects, camera traps and satellite collars; include training of national staff in all methods.
  3. Combine data collected from Activities 1 and 2 with environmental data collected by remote sensing into a standardized GIS database for use in future management efforts.
  4. Determine the genetic uniqueness of the Gobi bear using laboratory analysis of hairs, scat, and tissue collected from the field to determine future management opportunities; include training of national staff and increase in laboratory capacity.
  5. Develop a comprehensive human dimensions program; this includes improving ranger capacity, changing grazing practices, involving military personnel, investigating moving families from Ekiin Gol, and educating and involving local people in conservation of the Gobi bear.
  6. If, after a period of time, genetic and field research and conservation efforts show that the Gobi bear is decreasing in numbers, more intensive conservation efforts can be considered:
    1. If the Gobi bear is genetically similar to Tien Shan bears, consider introducing bears from the Tien Shan to supplement existing Gobi bear populations.
    2. If the Gobi bear is genetically unique, consider the option of captive breeding, either in semi-wild conditions, in a captive breeding facility built in Mongolia, or in international zoos.

See Working Group Recommendations attached for specifics regarding these recommendations.

Working Group Recommendations

Working Group 1 - Population Assessment and Monitoring

  1. Beginning in Spring 2005 monthly transects should be conducted at each oasis to collect scats for the purpose of obtaining genetic samples, food habits data, and trends in numbers. Efforts also should be made to collect accurate information about sizes of tracks to identify individuals.
  2. Place automatic heat/motion sensing cameras at each feeding site to identify individual bears.
  3. To obtain information on biological factors potentially limiting numbers, such as low population, low reproduction, high mortality, and isolation, recommend a telemetry monitoring program. Capture a total of 6-12 bears divided equally among sexes (attempting to get at least two bears from each oasis) using closely monitored closed traps (barrel or box traps) that are evenly distributed between three oases. Attached satellite radio collars with Argos and GPS capabilities. Capturing should be conducted by experienced national and international experts recognized by IBA or BSG who will collaborate with and train Mongolian counterparts. Information related to this collaring project, including purposes, expected results, and potential mortality unrelated to collaring, should be made available in advance to all relevant parties.
  4. During the trapping period and possibly afterwards, make direct observations of bears from a distance, using binoculars, spotting scopes, and/or video cameras to collect information about numbers, sex-age of recognizable individuals, cub production, and behaviors. Observers should attempt to cause minimal disturbance to bears.
  5. Collect all environmental data for the GGSPA, including satellite imagery, meteorological data, vegetation, human disturbance, and water resources, and put data into a GIS system. Identify, develop and implement a long-term monitoring program.
  6. Human disturbance should be monitored by creating a registration system for ALL visitors in the park, to be administered by the GGSPA.
  7. Analyze existing pelleted feed to determine nutritional value to bears and, if necessary, suggest improvements so the feed better meets nutritional needs.
  8. Double the current number of feeders at existing sites; situate the paired feeders as far apart as possible at each oasis, and try to ensure visual separation of feeders (to avoid dominance at feeders by adult males).
  9. Provide feed each spring to coincide with the emergence of bears from the dens. Provide feed in autumn IF natural forage production or availability of natural feed is low. Remove food before the normal denning period so as not to encourage bears to delay denning.
  10. Draft proposal for all Gobi bear research and management programs.

Working Group 2 - Genetics and Demography

Research Needs:

The following research actions were recommended to assess the primary and immediate threat of small population size and to provide information necessary to recommend the best option for population management.

  1. Conduct field research to determine factors related to the small population size and low growth rate of the Gobi bear population. Areas of priority are information on population size, sex ratio and age structure; measures of reproductive success (such as the percent of females breeding each year); mortality rates and causes; and information on juvenile dispersal (including location and added mortality).
  2. Conduct molecular DNA analysis to understand the taxonomic status of the Gobi bear and determine the level of population substructure and gene flow among the oases. This recommendation includes the following specific recommendations:
    1. Collect biosamples (blood, tissue, hair and/or fresh feces) opportunistically whenever Gobi bears are radiocollared or handled for any reason. Ensure that the research team has the training and capability to collect these samples properly to minimize contamination. Provide collection protocol or team member if needed.
    2. Systematically collect feces and hair from Gobi bears using non-invasive techniques. The number of individuals collected should be maximized for optimal results. Feces and hair could be collected by park rangers (during patrols), biologists (during organized surveys), and others, for genetic analysis of population substructure.
    3. Establish laboratory facilities at park headquarters in GGSPA (including preparation and storage facilities), and improve facilities at the Wildlife Genetics Laboratory, Institute of Biology. A reliable mechanism for the transport of samples from the park to the Institute should be established.
    4. Collect samples of bears from the Tibetan Plateau, Tien Shan, Siberia and other adjacent bear populations to compare and determine the taxonomic status and genetic uniqueness of the Gobi bear. These results will influence the possible augmentation of Gobi bears with bears from other locations (see below, Population Management - 3a).
    5. Analyze bear samples to determine taxonomic status and population substructure (i.e., whether Gobi bears are functionally one population or are separated into two or more subpopulations). This work may be coordinated by the Wildlife Genetics Laboratory at the Institute of Biology (may require capacity building of staff).
  3. Encourage collaboration among bear researchers to combine data, including international researchers such as IBA, IUCN Bear Specialist Group, and academicians from China, Russia and other countries around Mongolia. Establish a Mongolian Bear Working Group to promote cooperation and coordination.
  4. Promote communication and coordination of all researchers in GGSPA (bear and non-bear researchers) to minimize negative effects on Gobi bears (possibilities include establishing a Scientific Advisory Team, coordinated through the park).

Population Management:

All management strategies involve some risks. The following recommendations strive to minimize risk to the Gobi bear population until more population information is available.

  1. Promote population growth by improving supplemental feeding (including increasing the number of feeding stations, locating stations for optimal benefit, and improving the quality of feed if necessary) and also improving access to water if possible. Timeline: Immediate
  2. Conduct genetic research to determine taxonomic status and population status (see above – Research Needs). Timeline: Immediate
  3. Depending upon the results of research and supplemental feeding, explore the following management strategies:
    1. Augmentation with bears from other locations (if genetically similar) to improve the demographic and genetic profile of the Gobi bear population;
    2. Captive breeding options, including onsite and offsite facilities;
    3. Translocation, either between subpopulations (if studies show limited gene flow and/or skewed sex ratios) or from the existing habitat into new suitable habitats.
    Timeline: Estimate 1-2 years for genetic results; longer to estimate the impact of feeding.

Extensive discussions were held on benefits and limitations of captive breeding. All international experts and some national experts were concerned regarding the risks at all levels of captive breeding. Concerns expressed included the negative impact on the wild population, the potential low reproductive success in captivity based upon other captive brown bear populations, the potential for adaptation to captivity, and the poor prospects for successful reintroduction to the harsh native habitat of the Gobi bear.

Working Group 3 - Human Dimensions

  1. Grazing in preserve boundary:
    1. Enforce present zonation within the preserve; possibly place a moratorium on grazing permits.
    2. Consider revising zonation to include all known Gobi bear habitat and include these habitats in the GGSPA core area.
    3. Local government should initiate alternatives and assist herders with local pasture (outside of SPA), including supplementary winter fodder, new wells, etc.
    4. Public awareness, information and education to local communities.
  2. Ekin Gol Settlement:
    1. Initiate dialogue with local residents to include the oasis in the Conservation Management Plan.
    2. Provide means or compensation for families to move to a new location; or use the oasis as a GGSPA research center and include Ekiin Gol residents as part of the park authority; reduce livestock in area.
  3. Military Presence:
    1. Include military personnel into conservation management by training border patrol units in non-invasive monitoring techniques, recording and reporting.
    2. Revise existing written agreement between GGSPA and Military patrol units strictly prohibiting use of existing and potential Gobi bear habitat.
  4. GGSPA Staff and Ranger Needs
    1. Include training on non-invasive wildlife monitoring techniques into future ranger training to be employed during ranger patrols.
    2. Increase number of rangers employed to meet national standard of individual ranger coverage (ranger/km).
    3. Regulate driving through oases, including rerouting roads that currently cut through oases, and limit human presence at oases.
    4. Provide a reliable communication system, field monitoring equipment, camping equipment, long-term monitoring stations, and a helicopter.
    5. GIS database should be developed and made accessible to park staff.
  5. Habitat Restoration:
    1. Assess condition of existing wells within the preserve to make sure they are bear-safe to avoid mortality; however, these wells should also be made available to wildlife once they are made bear-proof (e.g., capped in such a way to avoid having bears falling into wells).
    2. Investigate the establishment of ecological corridors to connect the three Gobi bear subpopulations, including possibility of adding water sources or feeding stations.
  6. Buffer Zone Development:
    1. Incorporate buffer zone work from Gurvan Saikhan National Park buffer zone development programs (e.g., encouraging herders to move out of the park and into the buffer zone, successful alternative livelihoods options, etc.) and encourage collaboration with GSNP.
    2. Investigate concentrating development efforts at Zuun Mod Area (oasis about 90 km from Ekiin Gol in the shared buffer zone of GGSPA and Gurvan Saikhan National Park) to attract Ekiin Gol residents and to court ecotourism and industry.
    3. Initiate bear-friendly public awareness and education in buffer zone communities to create bear-friendly and bear-proud local communities.
    4. Encourage cooperation with China through existing military meetings and international conferences to enhance protection of Gobi bears if and when they cross international boundaries.