The high mountain and vast temperate grasslands of Central Asia are havens for some of the world’s most spectacular assemblages of migratory mammals in the world. During seasonal migrations as well as nomadic embarkments, species such as saiga antelope, Asiatic wild ass, Mongolian gazelle, goitered gazelle, and even snow leopard need access to large areas to survive.
These migrations continue underpin the integrity of large, transboundary ecosystems. Their future integrity is also critical to secure the economic wellbeing and cultural traditions of communities that have been living side by side with nature for millennia.
Most of these migrations traverse an expanding human footprint of highways, railroads, fencing, mines, and livestock production in the region. All of them present barriers to natural and necessary movement of these animals. The presence of such barriers are a threat to the connectivity that is required for these migratory species to persist in the landscape.
“The high mountain and vast temperate grasslands of Central Asia are havens for some of the world’s most spectacular assemblages of migratory mammals in the world.”
WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) works in several countries across Inner Asia, specifically within the Gobi-Steppe ecosystem of Mongolia, the high Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan, and the Tibetan Plateau in China where ecosystems, although diverse, face similar threats.
Our vision is one of healthy wildlife populations and functioning natural ecosystems across the region. Because these ecosystems and the species that survive there cross national borders and often rely on long distance movements, it is critical that we make the science we are involved with accessible. We must likewise work with all stakeholders in reaching out to development interests and government policy makers so that our message and our vision is shared. Fortunately, there is significant cooperation, including through intergovernmental fora like the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). CMS is an intergovernmental treaty — along with a “family” of different treaties and agreements, initiatives, action plans, and other frameworks specific to different taxa or geographies. Today, 130 governments are Parties (members) to the treaty.
In 2014, governments that are Parties to the treaty endorsed the Central Asian Mammals Initiative (CAMI), which has brought together government agencies from range states, conservation organizations, scientists, researchers, and other stakeholders to contribute to solutions to protecting migratory species across Central Asia.
“CAMI and partners have made important progress in identifying and mitigating threats to more than 15 species of Central Asian mammals and their ecosystems.”
Since implemented six years ago, CAMI and partners have made important progress in identifying and mitigating threats to more than 15 species of Central Asian mammals and their ecosystems.
CAMI partners, including those countries that are Parties to CMS and those that are not, as well as non-governmental partners like WCS, have also worked together to complete several landmark documents.
One of those is the Guidelines for Addressing the Impact of Linear Infrastructure on Large Migratory Mammals in Central Asia, a compendium of valuable information for key decision-makers in the region. Another is the more recent Central Asian Mammals Migration and Linear Infrastructure Atlas, which represents the first installment of a broader CMS effort to create a living global atlas of animal migrations.
“CAMI partners have identified transboundary hotspots for migratory species and updated the list of actions CAMI can take to help conserve those species.”
These shared efforts under CAMI are already creating a real difference on the ground. For example, CAMI is supporting Mongolia to replace the existing corridor fencing that is adjacent to the Trans-Mongolian Railroad with a more wildlife friendly design, including a fence-free zone in an attempt to remove a decades-old barrier for migrations of Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), and Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus).
CAMI is just getting started. CAMI range States and cooperating partners drafted their next steps during an annual planning meeting in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in September 2019. CAMI partners have identified transboundary hotspots for migratory species, updated the list of actions CAMI can take to help conserve those species, and even taken steps to expand CAMI’s scope of work by including new actions to address the Gobi bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus), Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor), and the urial (Ovis vignei).
At the CAMI range States meeting, wildlife trade and wildlife disease issues were discussed due to growing threats that may lead to decline of large populations of valuable and rare species due to poaching and disease mass mortality.
CMS Parties, including CAMI range States, formally renewed their commitment to CAMI by adopting a new five-year Program of Work for 2021–2026 when they gathered at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CMS in Gandhinagar, India last month. The remarkable progress made by CAMI was discussed and endorsed by Parties, and has set an exciting example of how to drive conversations at the intergovernmental level into action that makes a real difference on the ground.
It’s up to all of us to build on the momentum created by important initiatives like CAMI in the years to come. Leaving the CMS CoP with an updated science and policy infrastructure for CAMI in place, we must now redouble our commitment to this region and these iconic migratory species through 2026 and beyond.
Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba directs the Mongolia Program for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Kirk Olson is Conservation Director for the WCS Mongolia Program. Alfred DeGemmis is Senior Manager for International Policy at WCS.