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article imageThe fading footsteps of Mongolia's Gobi bears

By Karen Graham     Apr 18, 2014 in Environment
The Gobi is the world's fifth largest desert, and stretches from north to northwestern China and into parts of southern Mongolia. A land of climate extremes, temperatures can reach 122 degrees F in the summer and drop to -40 degrees F in the winter.
With only two to eight inches of rainfall annually, and in some years, no rain at all, life clings precariously on the edge. Windstorms are common, sweeping across the dunes and sun-bleached landscape, yet life does carry on, despite the desolation.
Despite the harsh conditions, many animals make the Gobi their home. A visitor can occasionally see black-tailed gazelles, marbled polecats, Bactrian camels, the Mongolian wild ass, sandplovers, and if one is very fortunate, the Gobi bear. The Gobi bear, sometimes called the "Mazaalai," is the rarest bear in the world today.
Khongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert.
August 1  2008.
Khongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert. August 1, 2008.
In 2013, there were only 22 Gobi bears left in the wild. Considered a subspecies of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, the Gobi brown bear is also sometimes classified as a subspecies of the Tibetan blue bear based on morphological characteristics and is thought to be the relict, or remaining members of the blue bear that at one time ranged into the Gobi.
Now listed as critically endangered 
 Species, the bear has been named a National Treasure of Mongolia.The Gobi bear has adapted to the low food availability and the severe environment of the desert. The bears are dependent on vegetation that requires precipitation for growth and fruiting, but extended droughts have affected the bear's growth and reproductive success since the 1970s.
A  research team cages  sedates  measures and weighs a Gobi bear before collaring the animal. This i...
A research team cages, sedates, measures and weighs a Gobi bear before collaring the animal. This is one way to ascertain the individuals health and well-being.
The bears subsist primarily on shrubs, 
insects and the occasional rodent. They do not kill or scavenge other dead animal carcasses. This has proven to be a good thing for nomadic herdsmen in the area and has been a great plus in getting locals to help in protecting the bear.
Today, the remaining bear population is confined to three distinct regions in the Gobi. This has been useful to Rangers
 Area (GGSPA). Since 1990, supplemental feeding using pelleted feed composed of grains has been used to improve the nutritional status of the bears. Feeders are placed near the few springs in the area and feed supplied from March to April, when the bears come out of hibernation, and again in the fall.
In the wild  Przewalski s horses live in small  permanent family groups consisting of one adult stal...
In the wild, Przewalski's horses live in small, permanent family groups consisting of one adult stallion, one to three mares, and their common offspring. Photo taken: July 20, 2006
Jairo S. Feris Delgado
Mongolia declared 2013 the Year of the Gobi bear in an effort to bring the plight of this rare animal to the world's attention. If the world doesn't take an interest in preserving this treasure, the Gobi bear will end up going the way of the Przewalski's horse that went missing in the Mongolian desert in the 1960s. It was only through the breeding efforts of zoos around the world that the population was brought back up to the mere 200 that roam the desert today.
There are no Gobi bears in captivity. The two dozen or so remaining in the world are roaming wild in the desert of Mongolia, watched over by researchers, tagged and collared, but left to their own devices. Will they continue to trek through the barren landscape and rocks, or will their footprints end up being pictures in books and on web pages?
More about Mongolian desert, Gobi bear, subspecies, Brown bear, species near extinction
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