June 29, 2008

Avian influenza surveillance training in Hovsgol aimag

Hello All,

I thought you might appreciate the attached photo taken at the conclusion of our avian influenza surveillance training session held in Hovsgol aimag, Mongolia on 22-23 June 2008.

The initial concept had simply been to initiate our
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) field team in bird survey and sampling techniques in order to prepare them for the summer fieldwork. However, following discussion with Erdenetsetseg, head of the aimag (provincial) veterinary laboratory in Moron, it became clear that there was also considerable interest among the local veterinary and environmental departments to join the sessions. Thanks to support from Murray MacLean (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), and Ts. Purevkhuu (Department of Veterinary Service, Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Mongolia), we were able to secure funds to extend attendance to representatives involved in influenza surveillance at the district, provincial and national level.

In total 38 people joined the training including 17 from the WCS surveillance team (plus seven support staff), six from the Veterinary Departments in Hovsgol and Bulgan, four from the National Environment Office and one from the Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, two from the Veterinary Research Institute and a visiting researcher from the University of Iowa. Among the attendees were three veterinarians from our WCS-Afghanistan programme as well as Chea Sokha, a member of our WCS surveillance team active in Cambodia.

The two-day course began in Moron, with indoor sessions including introductions to avian influenza, bird identification and colour marking, before relocating to Sangiyn Dalai Nuur, the lake where WCS field surveillance will begin this summer. The following day included practical sessions in bird identification, mortality surveying and GPS navigation.

The highlight of the whole course came during the bird identification practical, when the first waterbird observed by the team turned out to be a Bean Goose wearing a WCS neck collar that had been tagged during our work in July 2007! This species will be the focus of our early work in the 2008 field season, and together with our collaborator Thomas Heinicke in Germany (who supplied the collars), we will increase awareness of this species in potential wintering quarters in China with the intention that resightings of collared birds during the winter will further define the migratory routes and wintering areas of this little known Mongolian species.

Best wishes to all,


Martin Gilbert M.R.C.V.S., B.V.M.S.
Wildlife Veterinarian, Associate Director - Asia,
Global Health Program, Wildlife Conservation Society

June 25, 2008

100s of Mongolian Gazelles died

© Seen in the latest edition of e-Browser
from the Large Herbivore Foundation (LHF)

In May 2008 hundreds of Mongolian Gazelles were caught and died in the 2-meter high barbed wire barriers on the border of Russia and Eastern Mongolia. At least 30,000 Mongolian Gazelles have concentrated recently on the border of Mongolia and Russia in their search for food and water. Because of continuing droughts in Eastern Mongolia, the animals are migrating to the north, hoping to find food and water in Russia/ Dauria. From their long journey over hundreds of kilometres, the animals are already much weakened, when running in to the border barriers. (Barriers that in fact are mainly meant to prevent cross border cattle theft!). With help of the Russian army and border patrol, Russian rangers, supported by WWF Russia, are making temporary openings/ corridors in the border fencing over a length of 40 km, to create a safe passage for the gazelles. Also drinking water and supplementary food is provided, together with pens for wounded animals. LHF has given emergency financial support to Dauria Zapovednik and is working with WWF Russia, UNESCO MAB Russia and WWF Mongolia to tackle the crisis.

The Mongolian Gazelle is a migrating species, living in herds of tens of thousands of animals, moving over great distances in the Asian steppes, originally in a vast area, covering all of Mongolia, and adjacent areas in Russia and China. The mass migrations of the Mongolian Gazelle are a unique phenomena, comparable only to the migrations still occurring in Africa. Because of increasing border barriers (Mongolia/ Russia/ China) and increase in - fenced out - infrastructure like railroads (e.g. Trans Siberia line Russia/ Mongolia to Beijing), the essential seasonal migration of Mongolian Gazelle becomes harder and almost impossible. The extreme droughts in Eastern Mongolia, this early in the season, may be due to predicted climate change that will have major consequences for the steppe ecosystem and Mongolian wildlife.

LHF has been collaborating with other parties over the last years to find structural solutions and sustainable protection for the endangered Mongolian Gazelle. Besides protected areas (like Daurskii Zapovednik, RU; Eastern Steppe reserves, MN), unrestricted seasonal- and climate migration should be guaranteed, e.g. in creating controlled corridors for gazelles to cross the borders. The Mongolian Gazelle has declined sharply during the last decades. From some 1.5 million in mid 20th century (ranging Mongolia, Russia and NE China), only 500,000 remain nowadays, limited to E Mongolia and adjacent Russia. In Russia the species became extinct in the seventies, by over hunting, poaching and competition with domestic cattle. Since 1993, when a group of Mongolian Gazelles migrated (!) to Dauria, the species is back in Russia. Thanks to strict protection measures the population has now increased to over 1,000 animals.

Fred Baerselman & Joep van de Vlasakker


Mongolian Gazelle. Photo © R. Reading

Note (A. Braunlich): The Mongolian Gazelle Procapra gutturosa is currently not considered to be globally threatened (Least Concern). IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. http://www.iucnredlist.org/. Downloaded on 25 June 2008.

June 20, 2008

Genetic analysis of migration in
Tufted Duck and Common Pochard

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

The current knowledge about migration patterns in Eurasian Aythya ducks is entirely based on the limited information available from the analysis of bird counts and ring recovery data. In Europe, bird ringing activities are coordinated by the European ringing scheme EURING, where the data are centrally governed. These data suggest movements between different duck populations, which would facilitate the spread of viruses. However, the extent of these interactions is difficult to quantify with ring recovery data. I'm carrying out a project of the detailed genetic analysis of migration in two Eurasian Aythya species, Tufted Duck A. fuligula and Common Pochard A. ferina to provide exactly this missing information.

Common Pochard. Photo © Martin Semisch

From genetic data, it is possible to assess the extent of gene flow between different populations and to assign individuals to particular genetic subpopulation. In other words, we can simultaneously estimate the long-term average rate of gene flow and document actual dispersal events. The primary goal is to provide a solid basis for assessing the risk of H5N1 introduction into Switzerland by migratory ducks. The two target species from the genus Aythya are prime candidates as long distance vectors because of the large number of birds migrating between Central Europe and Asia each year, the potential mixing of birds wintering in Southeast Asia and Europe on their Northern Asian breeding grounds, and the high incidence of H5N1 in Aythya in Switzerland. Detailed knowledge about the population of origin of infected birds, the time of arrival of birds from populations in high risk areas, and the relative proportion of such birds among the winter guests in Switzerland will allow the efficient monitoring of infection risks, and consequently a much more informed and sensible implementation of protective measures for poultry.

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

Feather/ tissue/ blood samples from two species will be collected from different locations across the entire distribution range of the two species in Eurasia. The coverage of both breeding grounds and wintering grounds will provide representative samples of the genetic diversity in these ducks. We are highly appreciated anyone who is likely to provide our samples.

Common Pochard. Sketch © Nikolai Kranais. www.birdsart.de

The followings are what we need and some information concerned with sampling protocol.

1) Our main interest is in samples from birds' breeding or wintering area. As we will mainly focus on very large-scale patterns the exact sampling location within this region is less relevant. Therefore, the samples can be from one or several locations depending on what is easier for you.

2) The samples should be collected during wintering or breeding period, but samples collected at other times will also be very welcome.

3) Feather samples will be sufficient for all our analyses. I assume that feathers will also be easier to collect in the field than blood or tissue samples. If samples of tissue and blood are possible, they are highly welcome because of their high DNA concentration.

4) It is important that the feathers (rectrices or inner primaries are ideal parts) are plucked from the bird. This is to ensure that small amounts of tissue are attached to them which can be used for the DNA analyses. As long as the feathers are dry they can simply be stored in paper envelopes for each individual separately. The number of feathers required per individual depends a bit on their size. Four large feathers or 10 small feathers should be sufficient.

5) I'm interested in all individuals (males, females, 1st years, adults). Depending on the number of samples that can be collected it may then be possible to look at sex- or age-specific differences. 15~30 individuals from each age or sex group for each species are perfect if possible.

To summarize, it would be very helpful to have any samples from these two species that you may be able to obtain. It would be important to know the following information for each sample:

- species of the bird
- sampling location (ideally coordinates, or the name of the nearest town)
- sex of the bird
- age of the bird (if possible)
- date of sample collection

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

All samples can be sent to

Yang Liu, PhD student
CMPG, Zoologisches Institut
Universitaet Bern
Baltzerstr. 6
CH-3012 Bern

Email: yang.liu at zoo.unibe.ch

Please feel free to let me know if you have additional questions. Comments
related to this project are also welcome. Thanks very much for your
attention and assistance of sampling for this project.

Sincerely yours

Liu Yang
travel / birding companion wanted

Dear all,

Two colleagues of mine are getting married in Mongolia this summer (she originally from Ulaanbaatar) and have invited me to the wedding. I have decided to take this opportunity to do some birding in Mongolia while I'm there. I am arranging a tour by 4WD with guide etc to the Gobi with a loop by the big lakes to the west, and back through the Khangai Mountains. After that, a couple of days in Terelj NP, and after that the wedding with a traditional Mongolian festival.

I'll arrive in UB around the 14th of July, and will spend a fortnight birding before the wedding. I realize timing could be better, but I didn't really have a say in the wedding date unfortunately ;-) There does seem to be a full solar eclipse on the day of the wedding, so that might be interesting.

If anybody is interested in joining me for birds like Saxaul Sparrow, Mongolian Ground-jay, Relict Gull, Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, please contact me. At the moment I'm on my own and wouldn't mind sharing some of the cost. And if you really would want to I could probably sneak you on to the guest list of the wedding too.

Kind regards,

Jan-Joost Bouwman
Gouda, The Netherlands

Jjbouwman at hetnet.nl

June 9, 2008

The Future of Mining in Mongolia:
Protecting and Managing Biodiversity

Mongolia, like many developing countries in the world, is currently experiencing a significant expansion in mining development. Mongolia still retains some of the most extensive natural ecosystems in Asia, with expansive areas of natural habitat supporting traditional livelihoods and both migratory mammals and birds, many of which are globally threatened. How can Mongolia realise the benefits of mining development with its associated infrastructure while conserving what is most important about the country’s wildlife? This presentation, followed by a panel discussion, will explore examples of best practice from around the world with regard to mining legislation, mine design and planning, operation and habitat rehabilitation. It will look at the assessment of the primary and indirect impacts of mining and the creation of opportunities for impact avoidance and the offsetting of negative impacts. It will consider some examples of where mining and associated development could impact some of the most important sites and habitats in Mongolia, and what can be done to reduce the impact of such development while bringing benefits to the country as a whole.

Download (path: Mongolian River Resources – Science & Conservation – Resources):

Protecting and Managing Biodiversity, Nyambayar Batbayar -Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre (WSCC), Jonathan Stacey -BirdLife International - In English (5.75 MB; click here)

Mining and Important Bird Areas, Nyambayar Batbayar -Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre (WSCC), Jonathan Stacey -BirdLife International - In Mongolian (2.87 MB; click here)

The Text above is from the Mongolian River Resources website. A link has been added to the sidebar of Birding Mongolia.

June 8, 2008

New publication on Siberian Crane

The Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus is one of the most threatened waterbird species in Asia (with less than 15 individuals left in Central and West Asia, and about 3,000-4,000 in East Asia). Based on long-term interest to protect this species, an international agreement and programme of work has been developed under the UNEP/Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) that involves a number of governments, international organisations and interested experts. This species also serves as a flagship to promote management of migratory species and their habitats in the region.

A new publication, entitled, Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane, Fourth Edition. 2008 has been published by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); downloadable from

This publication outlines the results of recent work and priorities for the future for management of this species and its habitats. The programme of work was developed at an international meeting in May 2007 in Almaty, Kazakhstan (which I was fortunate to attend). The meeting was led by the International Crane Foundation and a major UNEP GEF programme (see

The GEF project that covers Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and China as a primary focus, but in reality also includes all the other countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) where the Siberian Crane is found.

The publication makes very interesting reading and the editors are to be commended.

For those interested in disease issues, there are sections that relate to avian influenza surveillance in Siberian Cranes and wild birds that were identified as priorities by the countries and hopefully will be addressed during the period 2007-2009. This would be a useful reference to consider in discussions involving these countries, as AI programmes are developed/refined.

Best wishes, Taej

Taej Mundkur, PhD
Deputy Wildlife Coordinator for Avian Influenza
Infectious Disease Group / EMPRES, Animal Health Service
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations