The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a reputable science and conservation center founded in 1826, is currently enforcing the Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade in Mongolia through Improved Law Enforcement Project and Steppe Forward Programme in Mongolia.

Through the project, as part of its mission to achieve and promote the worldwide conservation of wild animals and their habitat, ZSL intends to fight illegal hunting, reduce the illegal trade of wildlife, and improve legal compliance and collaboration with associated government agencies in Mongolia. ZSL operates in over 50 countries across the globe and has been active in Mongolia since 2003.

ZSL Mongolia project coordinator Nathan Conaboy spoke about their operations and the illegal trade of wildlife in Mongolia.

What kind of projects are being implemented in Mongolia by ZSL?

Nathan Conaboy

Since 2003, we have focused our operations on three areas in Mongolia. Firstly, we aim to develop capacity among young Mongolian biologists through our annual field courses held with students from the National University of Mongolia partnering with students from leading universities around the world such as Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard.Secondly, we document the status of Mongolia’s wildlife using the global standard of the IUCN Red List. Thirdly we run conservation projects on the ground; currently, we are working on defining and reducing the scale of Illegal Wildlife Trade in Mongolia. The IWT project will define the status of trade, who’s involved, where it’s happening and who the beneficiaries are. We will also work with Mongolian institutions to improve the capacity and legal understanding among agencies involved in reducing IWT. Throughout these project themes, we also aim to increase public awareness to promote the conservation of wild animals.

Why did ZSL decide to actively operate in Mongolia?

Mongolian society and culture are changing drastically. During these drastic changes the government is understandably focusing on human issues, however, ZSL aims to highlight the importance of including a long-term focus on environment protection within policy to achieve a healthy and long life for Mongolian people in the future. Estimates show that if global temperature increases by two degrees Celsius the effects would be extremely difficult to deal with, but Mongolia’s average temperature has risen by four degrees Celsius, meaning that climate change is affecting Mongolia in a relatively extreme way. This is not widely known by the public but does partly explain some of the desertification problems we are seeing in Mongolia. Reducing the impacts of this is about ensuring we have a healthy ecosystem which is stronger and better able to deal with drought years and dzud.Another reason is connected to unique and endangered wildlife. For example, the wild Bactrian camel is found in Mongolia, so we have to come here to protect it as an icon of a healthy Gobi system.

Have your projects seen results yet? Are they efficient?

All of ZSL’s projects in partnership with the Steppe Forward Programme have resulted in major successful project targets being met. Examples of this include protected area boundaries being increased, Mongolia becoming the first country in Asia to document all vertebrate species to the IUCN Red List international standard, and even ex field course students who have gone on to work in environment roles at the Ministry of Environment, Academy of Science and National University. We realized that we must protect Gobi species such as the Gobi bear, locally known as Mazaalai, and have started discussing what measures to take. Not only the Mazaalai bear, but also many other animals need protection, as shown in our research.

As previously mentioned we have launched the project ‘Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade in Mongolia funded by the UK government through the IWT Challenge Fund. We conducted 5,000 nationwide surveys on the use and trade of animal products in Mongolia. In this way, we were able to determine where to focus efforts in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. Experienced research organizations such as Legal Atlas from the US and IRIM from Mongolia helped us in designing and implementing high-quality research that is appropriate in the context of Mongolia. We are also grateful for the cooperation ofMobicom Corporation in developing innovative ways to reach out to the public.

How has the situation in Mongolia over the last decade?

People’s attitudes have changed a lot. During the last comprehensive IWT survey conducted by James Wingard and Peter Zahlerten years ago, people actively participated in surveys, but now they are reluctant to participate. I assume it’s connected to the increasing knowledge surrounding illegal trade of wild animals. I guess this happens when society becomes more aware of laws and regulations. In general, it seems that increased awareness, for example, people’s knowledge of the Mazaalai, results in increased conservation activities. This indicates Mongolians are keen to protect their wildlife when the knowledge is available to them. I see that last point as our job as conservationists – to provide the public with knowledge so they can make their own decisions about what they value and what to protect.

Which animal is hunted the most in Mongolia

The list of the top 10 animals hunted has changed. In 2006, mostly mammals and one or two species of birds were hunted. Now, nine types of fish and marmots are the top 10 animals hunted in Mongolia. This can be explained by the growing popularity of fishing in recent years. It’s an indication of cultural and social change. Before, hunters used to have only guns and traps at home, but now you’ll also see fishing nets and rods. On the other hand, this could be an indication that people openly fish but hide other forms of hunting. Very well organized networks that illegally trade wild animals have already been formed over the borders of Mongolia and China.

What is the most illegally trafficked animal?

Mongolia has rare animals like falcons, gazelle, and Saiga antelopes. Yet, these animals are illegally hunted and trafficked to other countries. In some cases, herders want to maintain their livestock numbers, and they instead hunt wild animals and sell the meat to restaurants. The population of Saiga antelope has decreased by 85 percent within the last 20 years. If animals continue to become extinct, on top of Mongolia’s temperature rising by four degrees, ultimately, Mongolia will become almost uninhabitable.

The wild camel is close to extinction now, there are merely 600 to 630 wild camels living in Mongolia today. For their conservation, we’re studying their habitats and planning to start a project. It’s only in the initial phases right now. The first thing to do to conserve and protect animals is to improve their habitats and living conditions. That way we also protect the humans who are dependent upon the environment those wild animals help to balance.



  1. There are a few comments and quotes in here which aren’t accurate to what was said in the interview. I assume this is due to things being ‘lost in translation’. Nonetheless I am grateful for the interview and pleased the subject is starting to receive the attention it requires to make changes in the way people think about the value of the environments we all share. Thanks again. NC


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here