Argali Research and Conservation

To study and conserve argali in Mongolia


The argali, Ovis ammon, is the largest wild sheep in the world, and no other sheep has such impressive horns as an argali ram. Even the horns of the ewes can extend to a full curl. The species is listed as "Vulnerable" by IUCN, two of its currently nine recognised subspecies, from China and Kazakhstan, are even "Critically Endangered", and the Gobi Argali (Ovis ammon darwini) of Mongolia is rated "Endangered" both internationally and nationally. The 2736 large Ikh Nart Nature Reserve is one of the last strongholds of this species.

Research suggests that the argali population declines primarily result from poaching and conflicts with domestic livestock. Poaching is primarily for subsistence, but increasingly for horns to be used in traditional Chinese medicine as a replacement for other, more valuable horns from other species.

Argali also suffer from livestock grazing, as they are displaced by herds of domestic sheep and goats and likely compete with them for water and forage. Domestic guard dogs can also pose a significant threat to these animals. Finally, increasing mining activity, especially illegal „wildcat" mining is displacing argali and destroying their habitat. Unfortunately, Mongolia lacks the resources and training to effectively address the problems facing argali. As a result, there is little law enforcement and the few rangers have little equipment or training. 


A Project was started in 1997 with the overall objective of understanding the ecology of argali and the problems they face and develop long-term conservation management plans to ensure the species' long-term healthy state. A second, but equally important goal was to develop the human resources for effective research and conservation in Mongolia through training, providing equipment, and developing sustainable funding mechanisms.

The broad-based research project attempts to understand the ecology of argali, a previously poorly understood species, by conducting a large range of interdisciplinary studies. Work undertaken includes research into genetics, foraging ecology, mortality, habitat utilisation, behavioural ecology, and reproduction. A variety of methods was employed, including radio-telemetry, genetic analyses, behavioural observations, collection of biological samples, fecal analyses, and vegetation sampling.

The results obtained to date are already helping better conserving these magnificent animals and the ecosystem upon which they depend. On the basis of these results, conservation management recommendations are provided to the appropriate Mongolian government agencies, other biologists, and non-governmental organisations working to conserve and restore the species in Mongolia and elsewhere on a regular basis. The project organisation also works closely with local people to increase their support for conservation and to try to induce changes in livestock husbandry and wildlife use practices that will benefit the area's wildlife. Finally, researchers from the Denver Zoological Foundation work closely with their Mongolian colleagues in the field and in formal learning situations (graduate programmes and short course) to transfer skills and build a team of well-trained, dedicated conservation biologists. Active protected area management programs, ranger training, and the transfer of argali research skills from Mongolian to Mongolian biologists have already been initiated. Some of the project's results have been incorporated at in national and local protected areas' management planning efforts.

WAZA Conservation Project 06025
is jointly implemented by the Argali Wildlife Research Center, Denver Zoological Foundation, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and Mongolian Conservation Coalition, and supported by White Buffalo, Inc. and Earthwatch.


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