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AFC Flag Expedition #9:
The Argali Mountain Sheep of Mongolia: An Artist’s Study of the Animal and the Desert-Steppe
Expedition Artist: Susan Fox
Purpose: To travel to the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia in July of 2009 to study, sketch and photograph endangered Argali, the world's largest mountain sheep.
Location: Mongolia
Scheduled For: July, 2009
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Susan Fox will travel to the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia in July of 2009 to study, sketch and photograph endangered Argali, the world's largest mountain sheep.  On-going research on the argali is being carried on by Dr. Richard Reading of the Denver Zoological Foundation, which is her sponsor. Dr. Reading states in the Earthwatch project Expedition Briefing that “We are also using our findings to work with local people to try to induce changes in livestock husbandry practices that will benefit Argali.” This has inspired Susan to explore possibilities for using the arts to promote conservation in places like Ikh Nart.and to begin the process of helping the local herder women set up a crafts cooperative so that they have the opportunity to realize a revenue stream from the existence of the reserve, its visitors and the on-going presence of Earthwatch Institute volunteers.

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In addition to her studies, sketches and photographing the sheep Susan will be providing both financial and business expertise resources. She is in a unique position to do this work. Susan has herder friends now at Ikh Nart and wants to become more involved in an on-going, positive way with people she's come to care about. This grant would ensure that she has the funds to make the trip back there. Some preliminary discussions with research staff have already taken place and the women are quite enthusiastic.)

She will travel to two additional locations, the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve and the Baga Gazaryn area, where there are populations of Argali, to compare their status and conditions with those at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. She  wants to learn more about and gather reference, if possible (since many are nocturnal), of other species which share Argali habitat, such as Siberian Ibex and small carnivores like badger, Corsac Fox and Pallasʼ cat. The Reserve is also home to one of the largest nesting concentrations of Cinereous Vultures, the worldʼs largest. 

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu is located in what is called a Desert Steppe or Gobi-Steppe Ecosystem, which covers 20% of Mongoliaʼs land area. It lies between the true Steppe and true Desert.

Many Central Asian endemic plants are found is this zone. The Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature reserve was created to conserve a large area of rocky outcroppings of about 43,000 ha. It has retained a relatively pristine ecology.

Until Dr. Reading began his research project, little was known about the Argali. However, the population is declining and the species is listed as threatened both internationally and in Mongolia. His goal is to “understand Argali sheep ecology well enough to develop a long-term conservation management plan” (from the Earthwatch project Expedition Briefing).

Argali are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). The US Endangered Species List includes them as threatened and they were listed as vulnerable on the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.

Besides the resident Argali, endangered Khulan or Asian Ass visit the southern part of the reserve in the summer. One hundred and twenty-four species of birds have been observed at Ikh Nart, including the endangered Saker Falcon.

Permanent and ephemeral streams and springs provide water, both for the wildlife and the local herder families. The presence of water attracts a variety of migrating birds.

Local herders and their animals live in and around the Reserve. A recent study demonstrated a 95% grazing overlap between the Argali and domestic livestock, which include horses, goats, sheep, cattle and bactrian camels. Sustainable land use is an environmental issue in many parts of the world, including Ikh Nart and Mongolia in general.

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