July 31, 2020
From Horseman to Ranger
How One Mongolian Native Found His Calling on the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve
By Gana Wingard, Mongolia Field Conservation Program Director
Developing countries often establish protected areas before they have the capacity to adequately manage those areas. Effective wildlife conservation requires inspiring local communities as well as hiring rangers to actively enforce laws and regulations, create and implement management plans, and directly engage local people. Since 1997, Denver Zoo’s Mongolia Conservation Program has connected and empowered community involvement in conservation by providing environmental exploration and hands-on life experiences that promote positive attitudes and behaviors towards wildlife. As an example of Denver Zoo’s community-based conservation approach, we’d like to share an inspiring story about one of our key partners.
Anand, a 15-year-old horseman, who was born and raised at Ikh Nart, came in 2001 to help us capture argali sheep and ibex for radio collaring and population monitoring. Inspired by Denver Zoo’s conservation and research efforts, a few years later, Anand become a volunteer ranger. Soon after, he was hired as a ranger at Ikh Nart, and while he continued to work with us as park staff he also completed undergraduate and master’s degrees, ultimately becoming a park enforcement officer.
In 2016, with Denver Zoo’s support, Anand attended the International Ranger Federation’s 8th World Ranger Congress. This important international gathering took place for the first time in the USA, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. The theme was Connecting Parks, Rangers, and Communities, and attendance numbered over 300 rangers and protected area professionals from at least 60 countries. At this conference, Anand shared experiences with colleagues working in diverse contexts throughout the world. This experience introduced him to colleagues around the world, helped him build a network of people he can reach out to in the future, and has fostered professional growth in this key Ikh Nart park official. Learning about and seeing firsthand the rich tradition of the National Parks Service in the United States has positively impacted park-community relations and the multifaceted nature of park management in Mongolia.
Now, at age 35, Anand works as the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve Director. Ikh Nart still faces increasingly complex management challenges such as mitigating climate change impacts, a task that requires an ability to both maximize and balance ecological and cultural resources for the benefit of humans and wildlife alike. The reserve has begun developing a grassland management tool that will allow stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of various park management actions designed to alleviate issues—such as severe drought—brought on by climate change. This decision-making tool also incorporates the values and perspectives of stakeholder groups, like herders and tour operators, and applies an ongoing stream of biological, social, and economic monitoring data collected by reserve staff and their partners. Looking ahead, we envision Ikh Nart entering a new phase of collaborative management that results in mitigating the threats both humans and wildlife face in this unforgiving landscape.
Anand’s story is just one of the ways we see how effective conservation management is generational and how Denver Zoo’s conservation programs play a role in building capacity around the globe.
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