Miners threaten the fossil-rich Gobi

By B.Khash-Erdene

Mongolia is known among travelers as the land of nomads, birthplace of the great general and emperor, Chinggis Khaan, and land of many histories, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic Age. It is home to hospitable, gracious and meat-loving herders who cherish their land, animals and culture in all its natural beauty. Mongolia is, no doubt, a place designed for travelers and adventure seekers, with unspoiled nature, deep dark caves, tall, icy mountains, clean lakes, beautiful scenery and plentiful wildlife.

Despite all of these natural endowments, Mongolia’s travel and tourism sector has lagged behind others. The sector has never been noticed by the government until now, and not many are prepared to consider the sector for investment, due to its seasonal quality.

So far, Mongolia has managed to develop a small tourism sector that has lots of potential for profit. The sector has managed to grow through the support of the public sector and a growing focus on branding the country’s historic and untouched land.

National Statistical Office data shows that Mongolia’s number of arriving tourists has increased steadily from 411,640 in 2008 and 2009, to 460,360 in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, the number of tourists reached 467,000, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The tourism sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the nation is overshadowed by the industrial and mining sectors. The direct contribution of the sector to the GDP was estimated to be around three to four percent (342 billion MNT) in 2011, which includes tourist spending on hotels, restaurants, tickets and other leisure services. The world average for GDP contributions from the tourism sector is 5.12 percent. So, Mongolia’s numbers are still lagging behind, despite the growth it has experienced.

The main challenges for the tourism sector are the short three month-long tourist season (from June to August), and the lack of infrastructure related to travel routes across the country. Add to this, the consistent neglect by the government to promote the country’s travel attractions and marketing strategies, it isn’t hard to see why a sector with such potential is suffering.

According to the Mongolian Tourism Association, overall government spending on marketing has been under 518,000 USD per year. The World Tourism Organization’s report of 176 destinations in 2011, showed that Mongolian promotional spending per tourist totaled a mere 0.3 USD while the world average is 5.25 USD.

During the Economic Forum of Mongolia earlier this year, which focused on establishing a Mongolian brand to diversify the economy and decrease its reliance on mining, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Ts.Oyungerel, said that the government is aiming to develop “special interest tourism” over the next four years, specifically tours related to history, Buddhism, wildlife, nomadic lifestyle, sports, adventures and dinosaurs.

She said the government is increasingly focused on dinosaur fossil and archaeological recoveries, after the recovery of the smuggled Tyrannosaurus Bataar, which was auctioned in New York City, USA for over one million USD.

According to Ts.Oyungerel, Mongolia has a large amount of dinosaur skeletons and fossils, enough to fill five or six museums. “Since the discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert by Roy Chapman Andrews some 90 years ago, the Gobi has been known to possess one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils worldwide. International expeditions take place annually to search for dinosaur fossils among the desert’s sandstone buttes and wind-blown dunes. Thanks to a century old research by paleontologists  we currently have a magnificent herd of giant dinosaurs that are waiting to be displayed in museums,” she said.

As noted above, the Gobi is extraordinary well-endowed in fossil and dinosaur bones, including the first dinosaur eggs ever found, but also mineral resources. At the moment, dozens of mining companies are operating in the Gobi desert, including the biggest ever project in Mongolia, Oyu Tolgoi and the giant Tavan Tolgoi coking coal project. These mining developments could be blowing up historically precious fossils and bones of dinosaurs and archaeological artifacts, with their careless digging and underground explosives.

Minister Ts.Oyugerel said, “The increasing presence of developers and miners in the Gobi Desert requires the attention of conservationists and tourists to preserve its natural heritage.”

Currently, Mongolians, particularly residents of Ulaanbaatar, are too eager for big mining developers to start digging, so they can benefit from it as well. But underground wealth isn’t freely dug up to become the paper in our wallets and the bread on our tables. Its price is high, and irrevocable. The conditions of our living environment and the Earth’s history can be lost with careless digging. And our greedy eyes might get us into trouble that isn’t obvious to the eye, but is lethal and permanent.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=4446

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