Mongolian Gazelle

The Mongolian gazelle is a medium sized gazelle with a stocky appearance. It grows up to 150cm in length, stands up to 80cm at the shoulder, and weighs up to 40kg. Its coat is reddish-yellow in the summer, becoming lighter in the winter, and it has a light colored tail and a white patch on the rump. Male gazelles have horns which curve gently backwards from the forehead.

Ecology
Gazelles feed on various grasses and herbaceous plants. They are active crepuscularly during the summer, and diurnally during cooler months.

This species may be found living in herds of several thousand individuals, all across the east and south-east of Mongolia. This includes Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Khentii, Dorngovi, Omnogovi, and Dundgovi Aimags (provinces). They are occasionally found in Tov Aimag. These huge herds migrate seasonally in search of good pasture and water sources. They prefer steppe and desert steppe habitats with some vegetation.

Mating occurs between November and January, with dominant males mating with many females. Gestation takes about 180 days, and large groups (thousands) of females congregate at calving grounds between mid June and July. Each female gives birth to a single calf, although occasionally twins are born.  Young are active very soon after birth, and reach sexual maturity at 2 years. In the wild, gazelles generally live between 7 and 8 years.

Signs
Tracks may be seen around water sources. Hair and droppings may be found in pasture. Droppings are small, black, and spherical, and found in piles.

Conservation Approach

WCS Mongolia has identified the Mongolian Gazelle as one of its target species in its ongoing SCAPES (Sustainable Conservation Approaches in Priority Ecosystems) Project.

Threats

Natural predators of the Mongolian gazelle include wolves and other carnivores. Eagles may prey on young gazelles.

Today the most serious threats to the species are that of hunting by humans, and barriers to their migration produced by infrastructure development.

Hunting of wildlife by humans has occurred for centuries, but for personal sustenance, and trade in meat and other wildlife products. However, in recent decades it has reached unsustainable levels, and the future of many mammal species in Mongolia is at serious risk. For more information see the page on Wildlife Trade.

The extractive industry in Mongolia is currently booming. Mines for minerals such as Copper, Gold, Coal and Uranium are opening all around the country, including huge developments at Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi in Omnogovi Aimag in the far south of the country. This industrial development subsequently results in the development and expansion of road and rail networks in the country. In many cases these can block Mongolian gazelle migration routes and prevent them accessing pasture.

Other threats include habitat degradation through climate change, fire and changing patterns of agriculture, and disease such as foot and mouth disease (FMD).

Is FMD endemic in Mongolia?

Since the year 2000, Mongolia has been impacted by ten separate outbreaks of FMD virus.  Prior to 2000, Mongolia had been free from FMD for 25 years with the last outbreak recorded in 1973(Shiilegdamba et al. 2008).  Separate outbreaks occurring in 2000, 2001, and 2002, were caused by FMD serotype O virus, and were extensions of the Pan-Asian serotype O pandemic that originated in northern India in 1990, and then spread through South and Southeast Asia, eastern Europe, the Middle East and eventually the UK (Thomson 2011).  There is no evidence that the Pan-Asian serotype O persisted in Mongolia after 2003.  An outbreak in 2004 was caused by a different lineage of the serotype O viruses (SEA topotype), and a 2005 outbreak was caused by an Asia 1 FMD serotype.  The FMD serotype O virus that caused a subsequent outbreak in Mongolia in 2010 was examined and determined to represent a new introduction into Mongolia and not the evolution of an existing virus in an endemic environment, supporting evidence that FMD is not endemic in Mongolia (Thomson 2011).  The three most recent outbreaks of FMD in Mongolia, occurring in 2013 and 2014, also appear to be new incursions, and part of Asian pandemics/epidemics of FMD that have affected many countries in the region without the agency of wildlife. 

So where does FMD come from?

Since 2000, seven of the ten separate incursions of FMD into Mongolia were first detected in areas adjacent to the Chinese border in eastern Mongolia.  An analysis of the outbreaks of FMD that occurred in livestock as a result of the 2000, 2001 and 2002 incursions revealed a cluster of FMD cases in the eastern provinces of Dornod, Khentii and Sukhbaatar, the jurisdictional boundaries of the Eastern Steppe, where the risk of a livestock herd contracting FMD was also determined to be ten times higher than for the rest of the country (Shiilegdamba et al. 2008).  An analysis of the spatial and temporal patterns of the 2010 also revealed that FMD radiated out from the initial outbreaks of FMD detected in livestock herds located along the Mongolia-Chinese border in the Eastern Steppe provinces of Sukhbaatar and Dornod(McFadden et al. 2014). Maps of the outbreak locations of the FMD incursions reported in the fall of 2013 and early 2014, reveal a similar pattern with the initial livestock herds affected in Mongolia located in close proximity to the border with China.   The patterns of FMD outbreaks in Mongolia, coupled with information gathered from genome sequencing of the outbreak viruses, strongly suggest that the virus is being introduced from China into Mongolia(Thomson 2011). 

How does FMD cross the border?

The FMD virus can either be transported across the border through the movements of fomites (objects like vehicles, footwear, or other goods with surfaces contaminated with the virus) or the movements of infected animals (domestic or wild).  A detailed review of the 2010 outbreak of FMD in Mongolia, which began near the Chinese border on the Eastern Steppe, outlined three pathways of possible cross-border entry.  They were 1) the illegal movements of livestock (the transport of livestock across the borders of Mongolia and China are prohibited); 2) the migratory movements of Mongolian gazelles due to some permeability in border fences; and 3) the movements of fomites or animal products (McFadden et al. 2014).  The study concluded that the largest number of movements of potential conveyers of the virus were people and product, predominantly moving in vehicles, between Mongolia and its neighboring countries.  This contrasted with the fewer potential transfers resulting from the illegal movement of livestock, since borders are fenced, with checkpoints for inspection of people and goods.  Similarly, potential FMD transfer by Mongolian gazelles moving across the border was thought to be less likely given the limited transboundary movement of Mongolian gazelle previously documented (Olson et al. 2009). This opinion was shared by Gavin Thompson in his 2011 report, which highlighted normal trade activity between Mongolia and its neighboring countries, particularly China, as the most obvious risk factor for FMD movement across the border. 

How are Mongolian gazelle impacted by FMD?

Reports of a large outbreak of FMD in Mongolia in the 1960’s include descriptions of large-scale mortality among Mongolian gazelle(Kouba 2005).  The direct impact of more recent FMD outbreaks in Mongolia on the Mongolian gazelle population appears to have been less severe, although individuals have clearly been affected.  Contemporary evidence of the direct impact of FMD on Mongolian gazelle includes case descriptions and photographs provided by field veterinarians, as well as serological data and the isolation of -FMD virus from lesions in Mongolian gazelle that is genetically related to contemporaneous outbreaks in local livestock.  Of the seven incursions of FMD that have occurred on the Eastern Steppe, there is evidence that Mongolian gazelle have been affected during five of them.  Reports of presumed FMD in Mongolian gazelles preceded detection in livestock during only one incursion, in 2007.  However, there is no laboratory evidence to link the clinical signs observed, and the mortality recorded in the Mongolian gazelles during that period to the FMD outbreak virus (Sodnomdarjaa, Tserendorj, and Yara 2007).

In 1998, WCS began to collect baseline health data on Mongolian gazelles as part of the multi-dimensional Eastern Steppe and Mongolian gazelle conservation project.  Twenty-six samples collected from legally hunted gazelles in 1998/9, were tested for exposure to a broad range of ungulate pathogens, including FMD virus.  None of these samples, collected before the first known incursion of FMD on the Eastern Steppe since the 1970s, had antibodies to FMD viruses (serotypes A, O, Asia & C). The first peer-reviewed publication examining FMD exposure in Mongolian gazelles during the recent period of FMD incursions detailed results from a serological survey of Mongolian gazelle conducted by WCS in 2001, in Dornod Province of the Eastern Steppe.  Samples collected from Mongolian gazelle during the 2001 study revealed the presence of antibodies to FMD serotype O in 22 of 33 (67%) serum samples collected from 33 individual Mongolian gazelles. This led to the conclusion that the gazelles had been exposed to the FMD virus, which circulated in livestock during the 2000 to 2002 period in Mongolia(Nyamsuren et al. 2006), although no clinical signs of disease were reported in gazelles by biologists or local authorities.

WCS carried out an additional series of serological surveys between 2005 and 2008, collecting serum from Mongolian gazelle (57 calves, 33 adults) and livestock from the same area on the Eastern Steppe.  Based on these surveys, the FMD antibody prevalence in Mongolian gazelles had dropped significantly relative to the previous estimates from samples collected during the 2000-2002 FMD outbreaks in Mongolia.  Seven of the fifty-seven Mongolian gazelle calves sampled between 2005 and 2008 had antibodies to FMD virus (7.5%, 95% CI 1.6-12.4%) and none of the thirty-six adults (all sampled in 2008) had antibodies to FMD virus (X= 18.99; P<0.001; df=1).  This supported evidence that FMD in Mongolian gazelle is the result of spillover of the infection from livestock, and argued for control and prevention strategies focused on the livestock population (Bolortsetseg et al. 2012).

What is the best method to prevent FMD incursions and outbreaks in Mongolia?

Mongolia’s border with China and Russia is double fenced along most of its length. Both commercial trade and the transit of people takes place across formal border points staffed with customs and veterinary inspection officers. However, as previously stated this does not eliminate the risk of FMD virus moving across the border on fomites, and the fences do not completely eliminate the movement of animals (domestic or wild) across the borders. 

Therefore, Mongolia needs to have in place a consistent livestock FMD vaccination policy to prevent incursions from neighboring countries.   A cost effective livestock vaccination program that accurately defines the high-risk livestock population that needs to be protected, ensures high levels of herd immunity on a continuous basis and focuses on the application and use of a vaccine product that matches FMD strains that threaten Mongolian livestock. As a result of this strategy Mongolia will have FMD immune livestock heards are high risk areas and  will also prevent FMD spill over to wildlife. These recommendations have been highlighted as critical needs by two independent expert reviews of the 2010 FMD outbreak in Mongolia (McFadden et al. 2014; Thomson 2011).

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Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba
Acting Director
Bolortsetseg Sanjaa
Environmental Outreach and Training Specialist
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