Mongolia, with its vast array of landscapes from dunes to mountains, is home to a plethora of wonderful wildlife. There are around 140 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles, 6 species of amphibians, and 76 species of fish. The fauna here is plentiful, and includes a mixture of indigenous and migratory species. Within this blog we will delve into what mammals and birds roam Mongolian soil and its skies, some of which are endangered such as the snow leopard, and others which may be more familiar, such as reindeer and golden eagles.
Exactly what you would see on a trip to Mongolia would depend on where and when you visit, not to mention your skill level at spotting wildlife. But not to worry, our guides and drivers are experts at picking out any movement, whether it’s an argali walking upon a cliff top, a vulture tucking into some remains, or a wild horse heading for its daily drink by the stream.
Rare & Endangered Species
One of Mongolia’s big attractions to those with a keen interest in wildlife is the array of rare and endangered species; so much so that the WWF among other wildlife conservation organisations have various bases around Mongolia to track some of these lesser-spotted animals.
Found at Lammergeier Valley as well as in many other parts of Mongolia, are the wild mountain sheep known as argali. These huge animals can be easily recognised by their huge, curling horns, and their large size at up to 4ft tall and 7ft long. An endangered species which also roams the Altai region is the snow leopard. Mongolia is home to up to 22% of the global population, which are found in just 10 countries worldwide, and these large cats are now protected by Mongolian law. They are primarily spotted on specialist tracking tours in the winter months when they head down from the mountains to lower altitudes more frequently for mating, and to catch easier prey. Goyo Travel will be announcing news of some brand new, unique snow leopard tracking and wildlife spotting trips on next month’s newsletter.
Another member of the cat family which wildlife enthusiasts like to try and spot in Mongolia is the pallas cat. These small felines are no bigger than Garfield, but unfortunately they aren’t quite as obvious to spot as their ginger cousin, with thick grey fur providing the perfect camouflage amongst the rocky outcrops they tend to roam.
One of Mongolia’s larger, yet critically endangered species, is the Gobi bear, or mazaalai as they are known locally. As the name suggests, these adorable creatures are found in the Gobi desert and feast on roots, berries, small rodents and sometimes even insects. However, only few dozen are believed to be left in the world. At the other end of the scale in size, yet also found in the Gobi Desert, is the long-eared jerboa. Despite being on the World Conservation Union’s red list, these little rodents have a spring in their step – literally. They have long legs which help them cover up to 6 miles a night in search of food, and huge ears which help them to listen out for predators or find prey in the dark.
Moving on, a very rare member of the bovidae family can be found in Mongolia – the Saiga antelope. Despite being around since the Ice Age, the Saiga are a critically endangered species now, with only a few thousand left in the western part of Mongolia. They are fairly small, at around the same size as a goat, and are easily identified by their distinctive, almost swollen looking noses, which helps them to detect fresh pastures to graze from hundreds of miles away.
Other Wild Mammals
As well as its rare, endangered and lesser-spotted creatures, Mongolia is also home to numerous other wildlife of varying shapes and sizes. Across Mongolia’s central and eastern Steppe live over 2 million Mongolian Gazelle, moving between valleys and meadows for fresh grounds to graze. Also found in abundance across the steppe as well as other parts of the country are both marmot and ground squirrels. On a tour such as our Khustai Weekender, you can expect to see dozens of these nosey species popping out of the ground as if playing a game of ‘whack the mole’.
Further north, Mongolia provides the perfect habitat for some larger, yet less endangered species. The varying landscapes including forest, hills, valleys, lakes and rivers, provide sanctuary for beasts such as wolves, Siberian moose, Siberian brown bears, red deer and even lynx.
In addition to many of the weird, wonderful, and more globally recognised wildlife mentioned so far, you can expect to see some even more familiar faces in Mongolia. Bactrian camels are primarily domesticated in Mongolia now, but there are still up to 1000 wild counterparts of these 2-humped giants which stroll the sands of southern Mongolia. Another well recognised and very popular animal worldwide is the horse. In a couple of spots around Mongolia, but primarily in Khustai National Park near Ulaanbaatar, you will find some of the world’s last truly wild horses, the Przewalski (a.k.a takhi horses). A shorter, stockier species of horse, it is a spectacle to behold seeing these wild horses with their sandy coat roam freely in Mongolia, as can be done on many of our tours. Other familiar faces you may spot whilst in Mongolia include animals which are largely, or at least somewhat domesticated, such as yaks, reindeer, and other common livestock.
Next we move on to the skies above. Home to hundred of species of both migratory and native feathered friends, Mongolia has a bit of everything for the keen bird lover. Out of almost 490 different birds registered in Mongolia, around 70% are migratory birds that avoid the harsh winter and only visit the land of eternal blue sky during the spring & summer. These include duck, geese, cranes, storks, swans, common & oriental cuckoos, Pallas’s sandgrouse, saker falcon, Asian dowitcher and barn swallow. During your time in Mongolia, depending on region visited, you’ll come across a wide variety of birds. In the Gobi you should see desert warbler, houbara bustard, saxaul sparrow, sand goose, finch, cinereous vulture and many more. The central steppe region is the place to see the gray demoiselle crane, a variety of hoopoes, steppe eagles, vultures, upland buzzard, and a variety of falcons including saker falcon, black kite and a variety of owls and hawks. In the mountains of the north and west you might add ptarmigan, finch, woodpecker, owl and Altai snowcock to this, and around Mongolia’s many lakes you’ll see Dalmatian pelicans, hooded cranes, relict gulls and bar-headed geese. The best areas in Mongolia to observe birds in their habitat include Terelj National Parks, Gun Galuut, Khogno Khaan Nature Reserve and Ogii Lake – many of of which can easily be visited on one of our private adventures.
Anywhere you go in the countryside you are also likely to see the majestic birds of prey on offer. If you head to western Mongolia, you can get up close to falcons and golden eagles on a tour such as our Eagles of the Altai, which includes stays alongside an eagle hunter family. If covering the south Gobi, be sure to visit Lammergeier Valley, aptly named after the vultures that circle above, with a wingspan of almost 3 metres. A unique feature of these bearded vultures is that they mostly feed on bone marrow. In fact, in the wild they learn to carry large bones up to 150 meters and drop them from great heights to break them into little pieces and expose the marrow.