Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Rare Gobi Bears Of Mongolia

Species Survival

A Female Gobi Bear, Chadwick of National Geographic says,“warily eyes the scientists who
minutes before immobilized her, checked her physical condition, and attached a GPS radio collar
and ear tag—all in hopes of improving her chances of survival.”
Photo Credit:
Joe Riis
Source: National Geographic

An article, by Douglas Chadwick, in National Geographic looks at the Gobi bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis), known in Mongolian as the mazaalai, which is somehow surviving in one of the harshest climates in the world: the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

Chadwick, a wildlife biologist, writes:
The Gobi is Earth’s fifth largest desert, sprawling across half a million square miles of southern Mongolia and northern China. It sees temperatures of minus 40°F in winter and 120 in summer, and gets just two to eight inches of annual rainfall. Some years parts of the region receive no rain at all. Windstorms sweep through day and night, with gusts strong enough to send a tent sailing away over the horizon. When winds are calm, the Gobi’s immense silence can feel as overwhelming as the heat.

Signs of life come as a surprise in this sun-blasted, wind-scoured landscape. Peering through binoculars, I at first see just barren rock rising in ranks of mountains. The only things that move are dust devils and the shimmering heat.

The Gobi’s stark landscape appears devoid of life, but its wildlife community is surprisingly rich. Slowly, as I discover where to look, animal forms emerge: A lizard rests in the thin shade of a saxaul shrub. A saker falcon lifts off from a distant cliffside. Gerbils poke their heads from burrows.

But many days pass before I finally lay eyes on the animal I crossed half a world to see: a Gobi bear, among the rarest and least known large mammals on Earth. There are perhaps no more than two or three dozen left in the wild, and none live in captivity anywhere.

This male stops at an oasis to sip water, then rests nearby. Elated by our good luck and mesmerized by the sight, my companions and I watch the bear for two hours, from late afternoon to nightfall. Most bears become active toward day’s end, but this one remains oddly still. When he finally attempts to walk, his gait seems pained and slow. He must have traveled a great distance to reach water, I tell myself, and the journey might have left him exhausted and temporarily lame.

In reality, the bear is dying. A week later a ranger finds his body near the same oasis. The old male had likely emerged from hibernation in poor condition at a time when food plants were just starting to grow.
The Gobi bear, a subspecies of the brown bear, are highly endangered of extinction. There are fewer than three dozen Gobi bears left, making these bears among the world’s rarest bears and animals. Yet, the bears survive, eating what is necessary to do so. This is a story of survival, aided to a large degree by Mongolia's laws protecting the bear; the article notes: “One positive legacy of the Soviet era is the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area (GGSPA), a sprawling nature preserve established in 1976 and declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1990. Today the reserve is the Gobi bear’s sole refuge. Access is allowed only by permission.”For now, this is necessary, allowing nature to take its course. Nature, as we observe, is unsentimental; it gives and it takes without emotion.

For more, go to [NatGeo]

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