The country's pristine steppes are being eyed by major international oil companies. Some companies, like American-owned Soco, are already extracting oil from under the steppe. But construction of oil infrastructure across antelope migratory routes could deal the Mongolian antelope and other so far well-conserved species a severe blow.
The oil discovery is a good thing for Mongolia, but the antelopes are also important, said Mr. Bazarsad Chimed-Ochir, Head of the WWF Mongolia Project Office. If pipelines are to be built, antelopes can still cross them on their migrations if the pipelines are raised or put underground.
The Mongolian antelope annual migration, mobilizing up to one million animals, is one of the last natural events of its kind still taking place in the northern hemisphere. However, the increased taming of the steppe could lead to a severe reduction of the species' ability to survive in the wild. Where railroad lines have been built and fences laid, there have been incidents of antelope getting caught on fence wires and dying of starvation, and also of antelope populations being reduced by their isolation from grazing and calving areas.
WWF has been helping the Mongolian government map out antelope migratory routes and has proposed establishing them as protected areas. The government has recently created three new protected areas outside these migratory corridors. However, it has not yet committed itself to protecting the corridors themselves, also critical to the breeding cycle of the species.
According to Mr Natsagdorjiin Tseyevnmyadag, head of one of the new protected areas, the government's hesitation in legally protecting the corridors is due to the oil exploration. They've delayed replying on this question twice already and are clearly waiting to find out exactly where the oil is, he said.
In spite of assurances by oil companies like Soco that the antelope's biological needs will be considered, until there is a clear decision by the government to protect migratory routes there will be little incentive by the companies to do so. This could prove catastrophic for a species that so far has done very well.
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