MONGOLIA: Steppes for Sustainable Success

Ikh Nart Nature Reserve


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MONGOLIA'S IKH NART NATURE RESERVE IS HOME TO A VARIETY of iconic species, many of them threatened with extinction. When Denver Zoo first became involved in field conservation in this area, more than 20 years ago, the local government was struggling to manage the protected area.

Using the adaptive approach that would ultimately guide our efforts across five continents, Denver Zoo’s Field Conservation team brought experience in wildlife conservation, grassland management, scientific research and community engagement to the Gobi Steppe. Two decades later, Denver Zoo and our local partners worked to transform Ikh Nart into a model protected area—one with sustainable principles and programs that can be scaled across multiple ecosystems. Read on for a quick overview of how we got there.

Conservation Mongolia


Population + Climate pressures

and domesticated livestock have successfully shared resources in the vast grasslands of the Gobi Steppe. In recent decades, however, a boost in domestic livestock led to overgrazing and heightened disease risk for both wild and domesticated species. Combined with the increasing droughts that plague this ecosystem, these pressures led to population declines for multiple species of local wildlife.

Conservation Mongolia


multi-Pronged Protection

SECURING THE SURVIVAL OF WILDLIFE IN IKH NART REQUIRES a confluence of diverse conservation disciplines and collaboration with multiple partners, all wrapped in a sustainable approach that empowers local families, students and organizations to be part of the solution. Denver Zoo's efforts focused on several critical areas—threatened species monitoring and protection, rangeland management and community engagement/capacity-strengthening—each dependent upon the others for long-term success.


Threatened Vultures

Our team had been studying and protecting cinereous vultures in Mongolia since 2006. When ger-to-ger (home-to-home) surveys revealed harmful misconceptions about this iconic species, we worked with local conservationists to create a Vulture Ambassador Program. Ambassadors liased between herding families and Ikh Nart partners, and collected vital data on the species. This data, along with other research conducted by Denver Zoo’s avian experts, was critical to the development of our vulture conservation strategy.

Endangered Ungulates

Small-scale livestock farming and intensifying drought conditions put endemic ungulates, including native wild sheep and goitered gazelles, at much higher risk for starvation and disease transmission. Since 2000, Denver Zoo worked with Earthwatch volunteers and local nomadic horsemen on annual roundups of these two species—to safely corral, collar and collect blood samples. All of this data helped shape the area’s overall conservation strategy.

Rangeland Management

Building on the knowledge we gathered over the past two decades, Denver Zoo worked with local stakeholders, including partner organizations, local and provincial government officials, mining and tourism industry representatives—as well as hundreds of members of the Ikh Nart herding community—to craft the area’s first-ever comprehensive plan for long-term rangeland management. This stakeholder-driven model was carefully crafted to facilitate sustainable success.

Community Action

Denver Zoo worked to empower Mongolians of all ages to become hands-on champions of wildlife conservation. More than 2,500 Mongolian teachers and students (K through post-graduate) participated in our conservation education programs. That includes the 150+ undergraduate and graduate students who have contributed to our fieldwork—40 of whom attended their studies on Denver Zoo scholarships. Of the 150+ higher education students, 75% were inspired to pursue conservation-related careers.


Scalable Success

WITH THE STAKEHOLDER-DRIVEN IKH NART RANGELAND MANAGEMENT Strategy  in development, Denver Zoo and our partners were thrilled to be putting two decades of detailed study and on-the-ground advocacy into action.

Nearly doubling the protected acreage in Ikh Nart Reserve was a major accomplishment for our team. But perhaps of equal importance is the fact that our stakeholder-driven conservation strategies are poised to serve as a model for the entire protected area network of Mongolia.


Denver Zoo is grateful for the network of partner organizations that contributed to the success at Ikh Nart, as well as individuals who worked on the home front to affect meaningful change:

Earthwatch Institute 
Trust for Mutual Understanding 
Disney Conservation Fund 
National University of Mongolia 
Mongolian State University of Education
Mongolian State Central Veterinary Laboratory 
University of Vermont  
Conservation Science Partners 
Local, Provincial + National governments