The Gobi Bear

The World’s Last Desert Bears

Most likely, not only did you not know that Gobi Bear existed, but that there was even a bear who called such a harsh desert territory its home. The Gobi Bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis), known as Mazaalai in Mongolian, is a little known sub-species of the brown bear that permanently looks like it suffers from bed-head. Unfortunately, this beautiful creature is the rarest bear in the world and is considered critically endangered. While the exact number is debated, there are somewhere between 30 and 40 left in existence, solely in the southern Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Gobi Bear picture
Some people pay for haircuts like that (photo by A. Bayasgalan)

The Bear’s Habitat

So one question you might be asking is, “How do the bears survive in such a harsh climate?” The answer is that they are a little different than the common bears we are used to seeing on mountainous nature hikes and on the television. No fish or picnic baskets. These bears have adapted magnificently to the harsh climate and extreme temperatures of the Gobi Desert. The bears survive primarily by eating roots from different species of rhubarbs, while animal products take up less than 1% of their diet (usually small rodents). The bears are very territorial and frequent small oases within said territory. The slightest change or scare to their ecosystem and to the oasis that they frequent can cause serious repercussions. The Gobi Bear is considered an umbrella species, a species which animals in the region depend on as they help preserve the fragile ecosystem of the area.

There are several reasons why this bear is threatened so dearly. However, arguably, the two biggest reasons are habitat encroachment and unusual droughts in the past 20 years. The Gobi Desert is recognized for it’s wealth of minerals and attracts attention from those, both domestic and abroad, that would like to capitalize on these resources. Illegal hunters and mining corporations make their way into the desert near the same areas and oases where the Gobi Bear roam. This introduces conflict and the Gobi Bear is never the winner. On top of this, desertification due to rising temperatures and overgrazing by livestock has degraded grasslands into uninhabitable areas.

Hope for the Future

The Gobi Bear Project, lead by the passionate biologist Dr. Harry Reynolds, has set out to. Some of the main activities that the project undertakes are collaring and tracking the bears, working with the government to set up feeding stations, as well as community programs to raise awareness of the Gobi Bear’s struggles with the Mongolian people. While the members of the project have passion and knowledge, resources are scarce and the task to protect the bears is a substantial one. If this is something that you are passionate about and would like to help, we highly recommend donating to this organization or supporting them in any way you would like.

The area where the Gobi Bears reside is a protected national park and special permission is required from the government to enter. However, we are able to receive the special licensing and have the means to make this kind of expedition with no impact on the ecosystem. Tours regarding the Gobi Bear will make contributions towards the organizations fighting for the conservation of this critically endangered creature. If you are interested in this once in a lifetime experience, please contact us.

If you would like thorough Reading material on the subject, we highly recommend “Tracking Gobi Grizzles,” written by Douglas Chadwick and photography provided by Joe Riis. This book goes in depth with the difficulties of saving the Gobi Bears with Chadwick as he explores the Gobi Desert with Dr. Reynolds.

Our copy is well worn out

Big Mongolia Travel believes strongly in the protection of this exceedingly rare and beautiful animal. We hope that we can continuously contribute towards the conservation and proliferation of the Gobi Bear. To quote Dr. Reynolds, “The world is poorer when you lose something.”

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