Investing in Tost
On September 26, 2020, the much-anticipated Tost Nature Reserve administrative headquarters was opened in Gurvantes, a small town bordering the reserve in Mongolia’s South Gobi. The headquarters have a staff of eight, including Tost Director, Mr. Munkhbayar, and is financially supported by the South Gobi provincial government.
For many years, Snow Leopard Trust, our Mongolia partners at Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, and generous donors like you helped Tost herder communities lead efforts to save the Tost-Tosonbumba Mountains from mining threats. In 2016, Tost was approved as the federally protected Tost Nature Reserve, off limits to mining and hunting, but permitting traditional herder practices.
The Tost Nature Reserve is home to a thriving snow leopard population. Our annual camera surveys show a minimum of 13-15 adult snow leopards in the Reserve. The latest camera survey in 2019 confirmed that five female snow leopards gave birth to at least 12 cubs, the highest number of breeding females and cubs we have counted during more than ten years of surveys.
“Having the administration set up is a huge step ahead for the reserve. Although the reserve is recognized as a federally protected area, the local government is responsible for its management. It is wonderful to see a huge commitment by the local government to fund and secure a permanent administrative headquarters for Tost. This support contributes enormously toward snow leopard and ecosystem conservation in the South Gobi region,” says Bayara Agvaantseren, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation’s Director.
Local herders protect Tost
While Bayara and her team worked with the South Gobi government and other stakeholders to get the Tost administration up and running, seven Tost herders volunteered their time to help us understand what is happening on the ground in the reserve. Twice each month, the volunteer rangers patrol the area, monitoring wildlife as well as illegal mining and hunting activity. They each are responsible for patrolling an area of approximately 150 square kilometers.
In the first six months of 2020, the volunteer rangers covered 5,247 kilometers on motorcycles, recording data on wildlife species, herder camps, water sources, and any signs of poaching. Fortunately, only one possible poaching incident was recorded where several bullet casings were found in one area.
No snow leopards were seen by the volunteer rangers, but they found snow leopard signs (scat, paw prints, scrapes on rocks) on 10 different occasions. The rangers also recorded several wild ungulates: 70 black-tailed gazelles, 30 ibex, and 20 argali sheep. Ibex and argali are considered the snow leopard’s primary prey species.
In October, Pujii Lkhagvajav, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation’s Research and Monitoring Manager, held a short training for volunteer rangers to review the monitoring procedure and prepare for the upcoming Tost ungulate survey. This survey is an annual effort where the rangers help Pujii count ibex and argali in a 1,400 square kilometer region of Tost.
During the training, Pujii was delighted to gift the rangers brand new boots! Pujii says, “Last year the rangers walked over 650 kilometers, surveying the wild ungulates across Tost. These surveys are particularly challenging, and our team was aware that the rangers needed support to carry out this difficult work. The volunteer rangers made a request for new boots as their footwear was falling apart. I was so delighted to provide them with new boots before we started this year’s survey.”
Snow leopard conservation in Tost is made possible by donors like you! Special thanks to People’s Trust for Endangered Species for office furniture and equipment. Thank you also to David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Zoo New England, Lawrence Foundation, Zoo Basel, Mark and Vickie Fund at the Nysether Family Foundation, and Seneca Park Zoo for supporting projects in and around Tost in 2020.