Defending Mongolia’s Growing National Park System

A few months ago, when Mongolian national park director Tumursukh Jal was on an official visit to the Grand Canyon, one of his hosts asked a simple question: “How many national parks do you guys have there in your home country?” When Tumursukh mentioned there were 99 of them, his US colleagues seemed a bit nonplussed. “That many, really?”

The issue that worries Tumursukh is not that Mongolia lacks enough national parks. Instead, there is almost too much territory to protect – and certainly not enough park rangers and other resources to do the job correctly. This seems to be a problem facing many of the former Soviet bloc countries. Over the last 25 years, countries like Mongolia and Russia have been creating new parks at near-record rates. But now they need to catch up, and recruit qualified rangers and train them for the rigorous work of managing these parks. And to do this, they often need to reach out for advice and support from their western counterparts.

In fact, this was one of the objectives of Tumursukh’s recent visit to America’s parks. At each official meeting, he was quick to point out that the three parks that are under his command cover over 3 million acres – or an area that is around four times larger than California’s Yosemite National Park. But whereas the permanent staff at Yosemite hovers around 800 full-time employees, the three parks that Tumursukh manages only have 30 staff members total. So it’s easy to understand the challenges that the Mongolian park rangers face every day as they try to patrol such massive landscapes with such small numbers of staff.

Tumursukh is also quick to point out that they are not just randomly creating new national parks in Mongolia. Each of the new protected areas contains either a unique landscape (like the Gobi Desert), or was formed to preserve one of the country’s several engendered species and their habitats.

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