KHOVSGOL NATIONAL PARK
Known as the "dark blue pearl" of Mongolia,
Lake Khovsgol is one of the country's largest and most spectacular
protected areas. Bordered to the north by the Sayan Mountains
(rising to the park's highest point of 3491 meters) and to
the west by the Khoridal Soridag range, the lake is 136 km
long and 36 km wide. Its 380 cubic km of water make it the
fourteenth largest freshwater lake in the world by volume,
with over 1% of the world's fresh water. At its deepest, the
lake dives 262 meters.
Zone: high mountain, forest, steppe
second largest fresh water lake in Central Asia by volume;
extremely clear water, spectacular alpine scenery.
Size and location:
838,000 hectares in Hovsgol province, northwestern Mongolia.
shares many similarities in origin, flora, and fauna with its
larger and more famous sister, Russia's Lake Baikal, which is
just 200 km to the east. The lake is 1645 meters above sea level
and is generally frozen from January until April or May.
towns of Khatgal and Khankh are situated within the park.
A jeep trail traverses the lake's eastern shore, and a boat
sometimes operates between the two towns. Mongols of the Khalkh,
Buryat, and Darkhat ethnic groups inhabit parts of the park
during certain seasons, and the Tsaatan reindeer herders live
in the mountainous taiga and forest steppe to the north and
west (see sidebar).
rivers and streams empty into Lake Hovsgol, but only the Egiin
River exits the lake. The Egiin flows southeast until it joins
the Selenge River, which flows through one of Mongolia's most
densely populated areas on its way to Lake Baikal. Tributaries
to Hovsgol include the Hankh and Khoroo rivers, the mouths
of which have been designated "core areas" because of their
importance for migratory birds.
species of fish inhabit the lake, including Siberian grayling
and lenok. Nearby taiga forest, forest steppe, mountains,
and the lake itself provide habitat for 68 species of mammals,
including argali, ibex, elk, reindeer, musk deer, brown bear,
lynx, marten, beaver, wolf, and moose, 244 species of birds,
and 750 species of plants, including 60 with medicinal importance.
spills in the lake, overgrazing, illegal tree felling, and
poaching of bear, musk deer, and elk are among the problems
facing the park.
Other information about
Tsaatan Reindeer Herders
mostly in the rugged taiga-forested mountain areas to the
north and west of Lake Hovsgol, the Tsaatan (meaning
"reindeer herdsmen" in Mongolian) are one of Mongolia's most
fascinating social groups. Traditional reindeer herders, the
Tsaatan are part of the Turkic-speaking Tuvinian ethnic group
known as Dukha, reindeer herders who today inhabit
parts of Tuva, the region just across the border in Russia.
these taiga forest dwellers used reindeer for transporting
supplies, riding, and milk, and only rarely used them for
30-40 Tsaatan families still practice reindeer herding.
zones: desert, desert steppe, steppe.
dramatic rock formations,sand dunes, colorful canyons, numerous
rare plant species.
Size and location:
2.0 million hectares in Omnogobi province.
west of the city of Dalanzagad, Gobi Gurvansaikhan (meaning
"Three Beauties of the Gobi") park encompasses the series of
ridges and valleys that make up the eastern end of the Gobi
Altai mountains. Surrounded by low plains, the mountains rise
to 2200-2600 meters, and include the "Three Beauties" (three
adjacent ridges named East, Middle, and West Beauty), Zoolon,
Sevrei, Gilbent, and Nemegt ridges. Some of the peaks are volcanic
| The park, which extends
for more than 380 kilometers from east to west, lies at the
northern edge of the Gobi desert but includes desert steppe
and steppe at higher elevations. The park's landscape is extremely
varied, with rocky and sandy desert plains, precipitous cliffs
and ravines, salt pans, and oases. Gurvansaikhan includes the
highest diversity of plant life in the Gobi Altai, with over
620 species of flowering plants. Most are characteristic of
Central Asian deserts, including 38 endemic species. During
years with adequate precipitation, desert plants produce vibrant
summer displays of desert flowers. Fifty-two species of mammals
are found here, including eight species listed in the Mongolian
Red Book as endangered. Small herds of wild ass and black-tailed
and Mongolian gazelle roam the desert valleys and desert steppe,
while the mountains provide suitable habitat for threatened
and endangered animals such as argali, Siberian ibex, and snow
leopard. Long-eared hedgehogs and dwarf hamsters inhabit sandy
areas. Over 240 bird species occur in the area, including 34
resident species, 99 breeding species, and 70 migrants.
stark, high mountain ridges of the Gobi Altai provide a homefor
this rare and elusive cat, the largest member of the cat family
(up to 40 kg) found in Mongolia. Snow leopards also inhabit
the high mountain areas of the Mongolian Altai, and Khangai
that snow leopard range is declining in Mongolia, perhaps
due to poaching and reductions in prey species like ibex and
argali. As natural prey vanishes, snow leopards areforced
tofind otherfood sources, such as domestic livestock. Snow
leopards are listed as endangered by the World Conservation
Researchers estimate that
between 500-1700 snow leopards inhabit Mongolia but more research
ranges from less than 50 mm in desert lowlands to more than
200 mm in higher mountain areas.
Local herders seasonally
graze livestock in parts of the park, which features some
popular tourist destinations, including the Valley of Yol,
a picturesque gorge, and the Singing Sands, a spectacular
sea of sand dunes bordered by red sandstone formations, an
oasis, and a saxaul forest. The Nemegt, Khermiin Tsav, and
Bayanzag mountains, the sites of numerous important dinosaur
fossil discoveries, also lie within the park.
Saxaul is a woody
shrub that plays an important ecological role in the semi-desert
and desert zones Of Mongolia. Almost leafless, saxaul "trees"
grow to between 2 and 4 meters high in moving sand, rocky valleys,
and on hillsides. In some places, many saxaul grow in the same
area, forming so-called "saxaul forests" which cover 4.5 million
hectares of southern Mongolia.
These forests help
to protect fragile Gobi soils from damage and erosion, regulate
water supply, serve as a barrier to sand movement. They also
provide habitat for animals and firewood for local people.
saxaul forests are threatened by careless treatment and possibly
by increasing aridity. Forest growth rates have dropped dramatically
in the past 25 years, and the area covered by theforest has
also declined. Firewood gathering of saxaul has increased,
as prices have risenfor coal and otherfuels. Alternatefuel
sources are urgently needed to reduce pressure on remaining