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Desert Landscapes of the Mongolian Great Gobi

Date of Submission: 19/12/2014
Criteria: (viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Khovd, Govi-Altai, Bayankhongor, Dornogovi and Umnugovi provinces
Ref.: 5943

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1. Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area – Part A

N42 40,   E95 15             N44  40,  E99 30

2. Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area – Part B

N45 00,   E91 00             N45 30,  E93 00

3. Small Gobi Strictly Protected Area – Part B

N42 25,  E107 30           N42 57,  E109 30    

The proposed serial property “Desert Landscapes of the Mongolian Great Gobi” includes the “A” and “B” parts of Great Gobi and part “B” of the Small Gobi Strictly Protected Areas (SPA). The two distinct parts of the Great Gobi SPA have been on Mongolia’s TL since 1996. Jointly this territory exceeds the size of Switzerland, forming one of the largest terrestrial protected areas worldwide.

Part “A” of Great Gobi SPA spans an area of some 4.6 million ha covering five soums of Bayankhongor province, and Part “B” spans an area of some 0.9 million ha covering four soums of Khovd and Govi-Altai province. Part “B” of the Small Gobi SPA covers around 689,691 ha in Zag Suuj and Galbyn Govi including territories of Khatanbulag soum of Dornogovi province, and Khanbogd soum of Umnugovi province at the southern boundaries. 

The Mongolian Gobi amounts to as much as one third of the Mongolian territory depending on the definition. Biogeographically, four or five major geographic regions of the Gobi can be distinguished with remarkably distinct ecological conditions, vegetation and species assemblages according to precipitation, altitude and other factors. Besides the diverse ensemble of landforms the Gobi encompasses a series of former and current lakes of major scientific value as important archives of past climate change. The proposed property is dominated by rugged plains, low elevations but also features impressive mountain ranges along the border between Mongolia and neighboring China. The vast plains of the Gobi are dominated by an extraordinary arid environment, with dark-colored rocky outcrop deserts which attract many domestic and international scientists of various fields.

The oases of the Gobi are critical to wildlife and many plants. Scientists have identified over 50 oases in the Altai Inner desert, 10 oases in the Dzungarian desert and 20 oases in the Alashaa desert. Moreover, scientists have identified remarkable 410 species of plants despite the harsh environmental conditions.  Just within Part “B” of the Great Gobi SPA 204 species of plant in 135 different genera have been identified. In terms of vertebrates, 49 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 150 bird species have been recorded in the Great Gobi SPA alone. The desert ecosystems of Mongolia provide critical habitat for a number of rare  and critically endangered species of flora and fauna. Notable critically endangered species include the desert poplar (Populus diversifola), Elaeagnus moorcroftii, Chesneya mongolica, desert broomrape (Cistanche deserticula), Anabasis eriopoda, Artemisia tomentella, and Spongiocarpella grubovii. To mention a few of the rare, native species, there is Amygdalus mongolica, Saussurea catharinae, and Asterotamnus mollusculus etc. with overall 20 endemic species identified.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Desert Landcapes of the Mongolian Great Gobi feature an extraordinary range of intact physiographic features and land forms at a large scale. The beauty and aesthetics of the vast desert is exceptional.  Despite harsh environmental conditions the high degree of naturalness and the sheer size of the diverse desert landscape not only provides critical habitat for an impressive range of rare, endangered and endemic species but also ongoing large scale animal migrations. For many of the animal species, including several large mammals, the Gobi Desert is home to the most important remaining populations of wildlife species.

Criterion (viii): In line with a specific thematic IUCN study this criterion is proposed on the grounds of geomorphology due to superb expressions of an enormous range of intact desert landforms and features. 

Criterion (ix): The vast and still largely intact desert landscape enables the continuation of ecological processes at an enormous scale. The nomadic patterns of ungulate migrations in response to the unpredictability of environmental conditions are a rare and exceptional phenomenon. The proposed components cover large and representative examples of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution of desert ecosystems and desert species.

Criterion (x): The proposed components harbor a range of rare, endangered, endemic and charismatic species and for some provide the last remaining natural habitats. Notably, the Great Gobi SPA encompasses globally important populations of threatened, endangered and critically endangered species such as gobi bear (ursus arctos gobiensis), wild bactrian camel (camelus ferus), Przewalski’s horse (equus ferus przewalskii), snow leopard (panthera uncia), saiga antelope (saiga tatarica tatarica), and goitered gazelle (gazella subgutturosa) along with other rare and endemic species, the Mongolian three-toed jerboa (stylodipus sungorus). Part “B” of the Small Gobi SPA encompasses globally important populations of rare species, such as mongolian wild ass or khulan (equus hemionus hemionus), argali (ovis ammon), siberian Ibex (capra sibirica) and goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa). Therefore from both the point of view of science and conservation, the importance of the Desert Landscapes of the Mongolian Great Gobi is exceptional.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Great and Small Gobi SPA were established as a protected area in 1975 with the goal to conserve an integral and important part of the Central Asian desert ecosystem within the Mongolian desert landscape. Based on a resolution by the Mongolian Parliament in 1995 under the Law on Special Protected Areas, both the Great and Small Gobi SPA remained in the category of Strictly Protected Areas. The Great Gobi SPA is divided into two ecologically distinct parts, Southern Altai (Gobi “A”) and the Dzungarian Gobi (Gobi “B”), seperated by some 300 kilometers from each other. The two parts together span an area of 5.5 million ha making it one of the largest terrestrial protected areas in the world.

The area covered in the Great and Small Gobi SPA is far from human activities, consisting of pristine Altai Inner desert and Dzungarian desert. No mining or other industrial activities take place inside the protected areas, there are no urban settlements near the Great Gobi SPA and there are very few inhabitants inside the Great and Small Gobi SPA. The Great and Small Gobi SPA have around 10 rangers who monitor the SPA territory for biodiversity monitoring and protection. There are border patrol stations at the southern border of the Great Gobi SPA and soldiers conduct border patrol duties and support the SPA rangers when needed. While there are some concerns about nearby mining (disturbance and fragmentation, including from associated road and energy transmission infrastructure; consumption and contamination of ground and surface water etc.) the large protected areas of the Great Gobi proposed as a serial property are in an overall  good state of conservation.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Mongolian portion of the Gobi areas of the vast Central Asian Deserts is exceptional on a global scale due to the combination of size, diversity and intactness. The Mongolian Great Gobi hosts an extraordinary representation of critical populations of rare animal and plant species. Both in terms of values and degree of naturalness, the Mongolian Gobi compares favourably to deserts worldwide many of which have been directly and indirectly affected by a much heavier "human footprint".