Onon River, Mongolia Pride Campaign Overview, January, 2010

Onon River, Mongolia Pride Campaign Overview, January, 2010

Building conservation dream team on the ground to save the last of the giant taimen in Mongolia

Just as Rare is uniting a diverse but critical array of partners to address sand storms in China and overfishing in Indonesia, the new Pride model is increasing this approach across the world. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Mongolia is running a Pride campaign to save the taimen, with an all-star cast of partners in the Amur basin region.

The Amur basin is considered by WWF as one of 19 epicenters of biodiversity on the planet, covering 600,000 square miles across northeastern Mongolia, China, and the Russian far-east. In a country of 3.7 million, less than one million are spread across this vast region, tied together by the 3,000 mile Amur-Heilong river. At its headwaters is the Onon River, home to the last strong-hold of what is one of Mongolia’s most charismatic fish: the taimen (pronounced tie-men or, alternatively, tay-men).

The taimen is the largest member of the salmon family, can grow to four or even five feet long, and is a top predator that has been known to prey on 26 inch trout, muskrat, and waterfowl. As a top predator, the taimen is also the ultimate "canary in the coal mine" – a perfect indicator of the overall ecological health of the Amur headwaters. Today, the stocks of this species are drastically decreasing due to water pollution, intensive poaching, and over-fishing.

Rare and WWF-Mongolia are coordinating conservation efforts between conservationists, fly-fishing anglers, and, most importantly, the local communities on the river's shoreline. A sampling of organizations engaged at the Onon site include: Mongolia River Outfitters (an international fly fishing tourism company with a vested interest in keeping taimen in the river), The Tributary Fund (which specializes in using religion to inspire conservation), University of Nevada, Reno (which specializes in freshwater fish monitoring), the Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Environment, and Tourism, Onon-Balj National Park, and the Asia Development Bank.

Gankhuyag “Gaana” Balbar is the Pride campaign manager for the Onon River site, with a resume that reads as much statesman as conservation leader. At 21, he was the youngest governor ever elected to represent his region, and was directly responsible for creating the Onon-Balj National Park that covers nearly 416,000 hectares of forest, grassland, and river areas. Once the park was created, Gaana became the National Park Director and headed up its administration for four years. Gaana appears to know everyone, from the unemployed fisherman to the parliament speaker to the police chief. As his supervisor said to us, “Even the dogs bark when they hear Gaana’s name.”

Gaana’s campaign is reaching out to local fishers in the area to build support for WWF’s longer-term strategy to develop community-managed conservation areas (CMCAs) and establish small business enterprises that use natural and sustainable resources to reduce local poverty that include stewardship of the Onon River. Gaana’s campaign messaging will communicate the economic potential of creating and managing community managed areas that include the stewardship of the Onon River, along with the cultural and environmental significance of protecting this charismatic indicator species. The goal of his Pride campaign is to increase the taimen population by 10% by the end of 2017 and increase the number of fishers who release taimen back into the river after they’re caught by 15% by October 2010. Gaana’s experience and Pride training will help ensure community support at a critical point in this multi-year, multi-partner and multi-million dollar effort.

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