Mongolia Takes SMART Approach to Catch Poachers

12 November 2015 | Wildlife Conservation Society News Release

Efforts to recover wildlife and plants impacted by overharvest and illegal trade in Mongolia’s Gobi and Eastern Steppes regions have taken a great leap forward.

An intensive four-day training in Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) technology took place in Khanbogd, Mongolia. The training— made possible through a unique collaborative anti-poaching pilot project between WCS and Oyu Tolgoi—was attended by park rangers, specialists and park administrators from Small Gobi, Mongol Daguur, Dornod Mongol and Nomrog Strictly Protected Areas, and Dariganga National Park managed by the Ministry of Environment, Green Development and Tourism (MNEGDT). The project was made possible through a funding agreement from Oyu Tolgoi LLC under the Core Biodiversity Monitoring Program – Anti-Poachng project, a joint venture with Sustainability LLC and WCS.

The Gobi region is home to a range of endangered wildlife species – khulan (Mongolian wild ass), Siberian ibex, argali, goitered gazelle, and plants – red goyo and saxaul.  All have suffered population decline in the last few decades due to demand for wild meat and the burgeoning cross-border trade with China. Similar declines have been documented across the neighboring Eastern Steppe region causing alarm in the conservation community. New approaches are needed to manage the remaining populations and stave off extinction.

SMART technology helps make anti-poaching operations more efficient. The tool turns data collected by field teams into information that identifies poaching hotspots and important wildlife areas, thus informing decisions on how to allocate resources for protection and monitoring.

The Khanbogd training included classroom and practical instruction in use of the SMART software and a field patrol exercise.

Dashzeveg Tserendeleg, Acting Country Program Director for WCS and one of Mongolia’s leading conservationists believes that applying the SMART system will help make protection efforts more efficient. “We have seen our wildlife populations drop in recent years,“ says Tserendeleg. “Part of the reason for this is that poachers know the movements of park staff and can plan illegal operations around this. SMART turns the tables on poachers by empowering rangers, and providing park managers with up-to-date information on wildlife crimes that help thwart the poaching threat.”

The SMART Approach employs state of the art software, global standards for patrol data collection and management, and staff training.  It helps turn observations of poaching and other wildlife crime into useful information for managers by creating maps, data summaries and reports about the protected area and the locations of threats. This will allow park officials to use sophisticated analyses for improved patrol planning and evaluate if patrols are successfully protecting wildlife.  SMART empowers managers to plan a strategic response to wildlife crime and protected area enforcement.

Tuvshinbat Tsedendash, a Specialist from the MNEGDT’s Department of Protected Area Management attended the training and said he sees value in the system.  “The SMART approach definitely has potential, ”says Tsedendash. “We will be looking closely at how the pilot project to implement SMART at Small Gobi SPA turns out.  If it is successful we will consider expanding to other protected areas in the country.”

The SMART approach is now being employed at over 140 conservation areas across more than 30 countries.  Some of these countries – Belize, Columbia, Peru, Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Thailand– have decided to employ SMART across their entire park systems. SMART is made possible through a unique collaboration among eight conservation agencies (WCS, CITES-MIKE, FZS, NCZ, Panthera, PPF, WWF, and ZSL) concerned with the effective management of wildlife and wildlands, and has already proven to be a successful tool when employed by motivated protected area managers.

Dr Antony Lynam, Regional Advisor for WCS in Asia, and the lead trainer in the Gobi training exercise, has helped train park rangers and border guards in Mongolia since 2005.  “We know that protected areas are essential for preserving wildlife and biodiversity around the world,” says Lynam.”In the future, protected areas will be critical for saving Mongolia’s endangered khulan and other iconic species.  The key thing is that they must be well-managed to be effective.  SMART is a set of tools that can help to guide management, promote accountability and good governance, and help to strengthen the defenses of protected areas like Small Gobi SPA.”

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