Great Bustards often gather in low-intensity agricultural fields and thus live close to human settlements. However, due to this species’ wary nature, many people are unaware of its presence or misinformed about its natural history. At the same time, there are also individuals in the community – herders, farmers, and hunters – who observe Great Bustards as they carry out daily activities. Our team works within local communities to exchange information about this charismatic species and to facilitate environmental education at all levels – from grade school to the supervision of university students and the incorporation of local adults into research activities.
Our formal educational programs for rural Mongolian schoolchildren include workshops, presentations and field trips focused on bird ecology and conservation at local schools and summer camps. These popular programs have been successful in raising interest in birds and the Great Bustard in young people. Indeed, one evening our team was surprised when a teenager popped out of the back of our research vehicle – she had skipped her school-night curfew to join the team for a evening’s work, in hopes of seeing a Great Bustard up close!
Our programs encourage enthusiasm about the natural world, introduce young people to research methods, and exercise critical thinking skills. Approximately a dozen rural high school students who have been participating in our programs have gone on to pursue university programs in biology and ecology.
We carry out our programs for schoolchildren in the network of EcoClubs established by the Taimen Conservation Fund and The Tributary Fund, with the in-kind support of equipment manufacturers Celestron and Microwave Telemetry.
Supporting Young Scientists
Our project is committed to building and supporting local research capacity. With the exception of the team leader, all team staff are local. Senior Mongolian and Kazakhstani researchers act as advisors to the team; we hire recent graduates as field staff and offer undergraduates opportunities to learn research techniques. We conduct competitive interviews for paid undergraduate field assistant positions.
Our undergraduate researcher from 2007, B. Dashnyam, graduated and advanced to a master’s program in biology. He defended his master’s thesis on Great Bustard habitat and diet preferences in May 2011. Dashnyam’s research and study was academically, financially and logistically supported by our project. He has become one of a handful (perhaps 6) of professional ornithologists in Mongolia, a country the size of Western Europe.
G. Natsag, who began to work with us as an undergraduate researcher in 2008, has continued his research on great bustards as a master’s student in biology. Natsag is currently carrying out his second field season of research on great bustard breeding behavior for his thesis.
The story of the Great Bustard is compelling, and once the means to observe and understand these birds’ behavior are available, enthusiasm about this species is infectious. Our local support staff has become highly engaged in the project, developing research skills and knowledge about bird conservation. We encourage team members to bring interested family members along on research activities, and the daughters of both the team driver and cook have entered biology programs of Mongolian universities.
Involvement of Local Adults
The course of daily research brings our team into contact with many herders and farmers. We rely upon these community members to be the extra “eyes” and “ears” of our team, to keep track of remote populations of the Great Bustard in hard-to-reach areas.
We welcome interested people to join our team for a day in the field, promoting transparency in our activities and understanding of our research methods. More than 100 people have joined us to date. Because our team is trusted in the local community, we are also able to dialogues about sensitive topics such as poaching.
Reaching a Broader Audience
We share information about this charismatic species with audiences beyond our field site using public media and art. This year we have produced a documentary about Great Bustards for Mongolian audiences; we are now fundraising for its distribution to schools and public organizations.
We also give radio interviews in Mongolian and English about Great Bustards and conservation. Artist Jacob Meders is developing posters to be hung in rural centers, to raise national pride in this magnificent species and awareness of its plight.
Outreach Materials We’ve Developed
- 看蒙古“鸨卫者”如何守护陆地上最重的飞鸟 Documentary video
- Дуадақты сақтайык! Сохраним дрофу! Poster, created in collaboration with Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan
- Environmental education in northern Mongolia: a two-way street Academic poster summarizing our approach
Popular Writing and Speaking
- The Secret Lives of Bustards on the National Geographic Stage
- Есть ли будущее у дрофы в Казахстане? Зеленый Мир
- Международная конференция “Прогресс в сохранение дрофы в Азии” Степной Бюллетень
- Governments unite to conserve the world’s heaviest flying animal National Geographic Society Newsroom
- For press coverage of our project, including articles we’ve authored, click here!