The development of the buffer zone around Hustai National Park
The development of the buffer zone area is tightly linked to that of Hustai National Park. Founded on the Buffer Zone Law for Special Protected Areas in Mongolia, ratified by national parliament in October 1997, the size of Hustai’s buffer zone was officially laid down in November 2000. The 462,000 ha large buffer zone encompasses half of the territory that was ceded by each of the three villages on behalf of the reintroduction of the Przewalski horses.
Soon thereafter so-called buffer zone committees were established in the three surrounding villages. Members of these committees sit on the Buffer Zone Council that meets twice a year. Herdsmen, women groups, local authorities and the staff of Hustai National Park are represented in each of the local committees and in the Buffer Zone Council.
Since the collapse of the communism in the beginning of the 1990s they have been confronted with a bitter decay in living conditions and – as a consequence of free enterprise – the disproportionate distribution of income.
As in most other areas in Mongolia the core economical activity here is husbandry. Most of the nomads have sheep, cattle, goats and horses for livestock. Only a few families have camels. Although the animals are well adapted to the harsh climate, they render low profit. The transition from a centrally organized planned economy toward capitalism has had a devastating effect on the system of pastoralism and has left the nomads with the bitter taste of uncertainty. State ownership and mutual responsibility, organized via herdsmen collectives or negdels, made way for individual ownership and responsibility.
Since 1950 the negdel had been the determining factor in the social and economical existence of every herdsman. It provided them with vital facilities and it controlled the volume of livestock and planned the migration routes. With the downfall of centrally planned economy these provisions disappeared due to a lack of coordination and financial shortages. The supply of communal winter-stores was abandoned, water pumps demolished and the veterinary care was also discontinued.
The breaking up of the Soviet Union and its satellites robbed Mongolia from its main market for its meat exports. New outlets for wool, leather, dairy and other livestock related products are hard to find. In the cities unemployment figures were rising and many desperate people took leave to prove their luck in the countryside. In short time the number of herdsmen families rose from 17% to 35% of the overall population. The total population of livestock rose from 25 million to 35 million. Not being constraint by any legally enforced restriction whatsoever people are free to settle where ever they want to. This resulted in large streams of people coming from the poorer western part of the country towards the Ulaanbaatar region. Impoverished nomads with their animals settle down in areas where the local herdsmen broke up camp, so undermining the self-restoring capacity of the steppe, by overgrazing and overpopulation.
This state of ’anarchy’ did result in a ever-increasing population balancing on or bungling below subsistence minimum and to a proceeding deterioration of the steppe. This crisis in nomadic pastoralism has also had its effect on the area around Hustai National Park in the last years. Unintentionally the National Park has become an exclusive oasis in the middle of a desolation of overgrazed grassland.