Khulan meets road – Impact of mining related infrastructure development on Mongolian Wild Ass in the Gobi



Photo of two wild asses running in the Mongolian steppe 1
Study area in the SE Gobi
Khulan in front of OT mine
Khulan next to road
Darting khulan from a jeep
Anaesthetized khulan
The capture team 2013
Foto des Khulan Fangteams 7
Collared khulan leaving
Khulan movements

Khulan are among the most mobile of terrestrial mammals, ranging over thousands of square kilometers each year, a behavior that enables them to follow the unpredictable rainfall that characterizes the Gobi and to escape region-specific extreme winter weather events.  Recent mining related infrastructure development, if not carefully managed, could fragment the range of this nomadic species in Mongolia, a range-limiting effect that occurred previously, in the 1950s, with the development of the trans-Mongolian railroad.

In August, 2013 an international team of wildlife experts fitted satellite tracking collars on 20 khulan. The team includes biologists and veterinarians from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria 10, and the Wildlife Conservation Society 11, based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The funding, administered through a Cooperative Agreement with Sustainability East Asia LLC 12, is from Oyu Tolgoi 13, the largest mine in the region. The early results provide a revealing snapshot of the movements of these highly nomadic animals, movements that reflect the importance of extreme long-distance travel for this species’ survival.

Remarkably within just the first month of the project, the 20 khulan had travelled a range of more than 80,000 square kilometers, an area equal to the size of Austria. The extent of these initial movements dwarves the world famous migration of wildebeest and zebra within the 25,000 square kilometer of Africa’s Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Several khulan already crossed mining roads multiple times showing that roads per se do not automatically constitute barriers, but also confirming that the roads run directly through their range. Currently there is little traffic due to greatly reduced mining production but this is expected to change and continuous truck traffic on parallel roads may well create a major movement barrier.

The khulan will continue to be monitored through satellite tracking for the next two years and additional animals will be collared, depending on incoming results. The study is expected to enable researchers to evaluate khulan movements across seasons and years, a long-term approach that is critical for drawing robust conclusions about grazing animals living within a marginal, highly variable and highly seasonal ecosystem.




The khulan’s need for unfragmented space can be visualized through maps (click on the links in the "Khulan movement maps" box) showing the movements of the collared animals, as periodically updated static maps and animated monthly movement paths.


The space requirement of the khulans in the Mongolian Gobi can be observed on the basis of maps (see box on the right). Here you can visualize the movements of the animals being monitored using regularly updated maps.


Voices from the team


Petra Kaczensky, senior researcher at FIWI

"The south Gobi region houses the largest population of khulan globally. These animals can thrive in this unproductive and unpredictable environment only by permanently being on the move. This way they can outrun severe weather conditions like droughts or extreme winters, and avoid disturbance by or competition with people and livestock."


Chris Walzer, head of the conservation medicine unit at FIWI

Our preliminary results confirm that khulan range over vast areas and the next months will demonstrate, if and to what extent, longitudinal structures in the landscape such as roads and their associated traffic potentially impact these vital movements. The results from this study will assist in planning appropriate mitigation measures to maintain an ecologically connected Gobi-Steppe ecosysem.”  


Buuveibaatar Bayarbaatar from WCS

“Khulan are of global importance for wildlife conservation because of the unique ecological niche they occupy. The Wildlife Conservation Society recognizes that by working collaboratively with the private sector towards identifying and mitigating the effects on khulan movements and habitats of infrastructure development and expanding human population densities, a healthy khulan population can coexist with healthy economic development in the region.“


Our partner



Project Contacts

Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Petra Kaczensky

Wildlife Conservation Society

Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar


Supported by



Contact: Samdanjigmed Tulganyam


Administered through

Contact: Nyamdorj Barnuud


Additional information


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