Earth Month, Day 3: Mongolia and the Mekong

josh zaffosFor today's Earth Month installment, we bring you a two-fer: A pair of essays from Colorado-based writer Josh Zaffos, who traveled to the other side of the globe to report on some big stories from some beautiful places. An hour’s drive east of the city of Ulaanbaatar, a steel statue of Mongolia’s legendary warrior Genghis Khan rises 131 feet above the country’s 68 million-acre grassland steppe. © Nick Hall

Giant Steppes: Protecting Mongolia's Grasslands in the Face of a Mining Boom

 Amar Purev, a square-jawed ranger with a no-nonsense demeanor, peers through binoculars from the window of an SUV as it bounces along a double-track path through a green-and-golden sea of hip-high grass. He spots only a few gazelles in the distance, but when the vehicle crests a hill, it halts: Fifty yards away, hundreds of gazelles and their calves graze on stipa, or feather grass. Before Purev can open his door, the animals take off, coursing 40 miles per hour across the flat and boundless expanse that reaches to the horizon.

This grassy ocean is Mongolia’s Toson Hulstai Nature Reserve, a protected area of more than 1 million acres. It is part of a 68 million-acre expanse of grasslands that stretch from forests to desert across the country’s Eastern Steppe. The steppe is the largest intact temperate grassland on Earth, and this reserve protects calving habitat for the Mongolian gazelle, whose herds can eclipse the horizon with thousands of animals. Scientists estimate the gazelle population here at a million, rivaling the wildlife herds of Africa’s Serengeti... Read more.

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Life on Mekong Faces Threats as Major Dams Begin to Rise

A villager washes in the Mekong, with Xayaburi Dam construction in background. (Photo courtesy International Rivers)

In the sleepy northern Thai border town of Huay Luk, a community leader, Pornsawan Boontun, still remembers the day when villagers netted a Mekong giant catfish more than a decade ago. The fish weighed 615 pounds, and it surprised everyone since the elusive species has never been common in this stretch of river.

The giant catfish, among the planet’s largest freshwater fish species, is now rare throughout the entire Mekong River Basin. While overfishing and past practices, such as dynamiting or electroshocking pools in the river, contributed to the species’ decline, a much larger threat now looms for aquatic life and human populations along the Lower Mekong River: dams... Read more.